Jonathan Chait has been somewhat inflamed of late over the fact that the title of "deficit hawk" has been conferred upon House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). With good reason! Paul Ryan is the tax cutter who actually raises taxes and the budget balancer who doesn't have a plan to balance the budget. But he's handsome and affable, and draws a lot of what Chait calls "fawning press coverage."
Chait's key complaint is that Ryan "isn't letting go of his Obama-ignored-the-deficit-commission talking point," which is relevant because Ryan opposed the deficit commission, too. Asked by Politico's Mike Allen if the commission was "worth having," Ryan answered in the affirmative, and then went on to say that "the president just took us a few steps backwards by ignoring the commission's findings, by ignoring its conclusions."
Chait criticizes Allen for not jumping on this:
You know what a good follow-up question would be? "So, Paul Ryan you voted against the commission's proposals! How can you attack Obama for failing to endorse policies you voted against?"
This is a valid criticism, though why you'd expect an incisive follow-up question from Mike Allen escapes me. That said, this follow-up has been put to Ryan, and, as you might expect, he has an answer for it.
RYAN: We haven't even written the budget yet. We haven't been able to write our budget yet. Every time I brought budgets to the Floor the last couple of years, we've been dealing with those programs, we've been talking about reforming those programs.
Look, the president not only didn't deal with these programs which are the drivers of our debt. He punted to a fiscal commission and then he just didn't even embrace the Fiscal Commission. So if --
WALLACE: You were on the Fiscal Commission and you voted against it yourself.
RYAN: I did, and I proposed alternatives. The reason I voted against the Fiscal Commission, because it didn't deal with the driver, which is healthcare spending. Alice Rivlin and I, a Democrat, proposed real significant healthcare entitlement reform. It was not accepted by the Fiscal Commission, and that is in large part why I didn't support --
WALLACE: But here -- here is the thing --
RYAN: But the point I'm trying to say is --
WALLACE: Well, if I -- if I may just ask a question, and you -- and you can answer it in the course of this. It sounds like you're -- and let's face it, there's a certain game going on here. The White House is scared to go first on entitlements because they say that the Republicans will demagogue them. The Republicans say they're scared to go first on entitlements because they think the Democrats will demagogue them. When are we going to get some progress on entitlements?
RYAN: Two things. Number one, presidents are elected to lead, not to punt and this president has been punting. And I really hope -- I sincerely hope he's -- he leads with the budget tomorrow.
So that's why Ryan didn't support the deficit commission. What's puzzling to me is why Ryan thinks that Obama's failure to support the commission -- which failed to include the Rivlin-Ryan proposal -- constitutes a failure of leadership. Would he have preferred that Obama endorsed the Commission that, in Ryan's words, "didn't deal with the driver, which is healthcare spending?"
Seems to me like whether Obama had endorsed it or not, Ryan would have had a convenient reason to beef with Obama over "leadership" and "punting." Ryan's got his "damned if does, damned if he doesn't" game running, in lieu of actual policy seriousness. So the problem of the press being too swift to give Ryan the title of "deficit hawk" is actually secondary to the problem of the press being too slow to give Ryan the title of "con man."
Paul Ryan Keeps Attacking Obama For Opposing Ryan-Opposed Plan [Jonathan Chait @ TNR]
Please define `fiscal hawk' [The Plum Line]