How difficult is it to balance the federal budget? On paper it is simple, match revenues with expenditures and presto you have balance. How difficult is it in practical terms? Extremely difficult if not impossible. How desirable is it to balance the federal budget? Ahhhh that is truly the more appropriate question. And how do you measure desirability? In mathematical metrics? In economic terms? In terms of equity, or social justice? And how quickly should we strive for this mystical fiscal fix? Next year? Ten years? Twenty years?
The ultra-conservative right takes the view that balance for balance' sake is wise fiscal policy. The absurdity of such an intellectual construct renders any serious discussion or debate meaningless. Yet here stands Congressman Paul Ryan in the media spotlight foisting a document adorned with a fig leaf of fiscal responsibility about as though he had just come down from the mountaintop with a budgetary version of the Ten Commandments. To stick with the Biblical metaphor, 'Oy, giveth me a break'!
As a staff member of the Senate Budget Committee during the Reagan-Stockman years I have seen plenty of budget gimmicks in my day and the phoniness of supply-side economics was the biggest gimmick of them all. Ryan is heralded as this serious and intellectual beacon in the budgetary constellation, yet the effort he unveiled this week is so outrageously simplistic that the devastation it would visit upon our society validates its otherworldliness. It truly must have been devised on the planet Simpletron.
Look here, boy wonder; it is not a stroke of genius to put numbers together. One and one make two, two plus two equals four. The fact that at least on paper the numbers may add up to balance at some point in the future is neither news nor newsworthy. But given the havoc such a prescription would wreck upon a society reeling from unprecedented levels of income inequality, a disappearing middle class, persistent un- and underemployment, sluggish economic growth, and a level of societal stress and uncertainty over the future, is there any question that the asymmetrical dysfunction that can be laid directly at the doorstep of the Republican Party will do anything but worsen?
The one thing that cannot be said about the Ryan budget is that it is disingenuous. Like the Romney 47% confession, this budget truly reflects the nature of the Tea Party-led insurgency that has suffocated the GOP. This is what they truly think: elections be damned, compromise at your own peril, obstruct at any and all costs, reverse at full speed.
From an economic perspective the likelihood of a full-scale retreat into recession seems to be an acceptable consequence of this austerity-induced coma. The only thing serious about the Ryan proposal is the degree of delusion that accompanies it. To the media we must stop treating this man as though he were a serious actor in this pseudo-Greek tragedy. He is not serious, his party is not serious, and the Tea Party pirates that have raided their ship of state are not serious when it comes to playing a constructive role in steering us away from the dangerous shoals that threaten what is a fragile recovery.
Let's be very clear about one thing here; complexity is not elitist and sophistication is not necessarily snobbish. Serious leadership and effective policymaking is a careful blend of complexity, sophistication, practicality, and common sense. The Ryan budget contains none of these elements. A rank amateur can balance the budget on paper, and if there is little or no regard for the consequences of such amateurism an attempt to implement it can follow.
There was once a time when seriousness spanned the political spectrum, and I am old enough to have lived to see it. That is no longer the case and the President can legitimately navigate around only so much of the splatter left behind by an elephant in distress. The American people are sick and tired of gamesmanship, Mr. Ryan, they want leadership and most of all statesmanship, which is in short supply on your side of the aisle.
So stop playing around and get serious. Act like the serious student the media so generously bestows upon your persona and do what you are supposed to do: namely, put the nation above your own petty ideological prejudices.