In my recent posting entitled "Why Ayn Rand is Not the Issue," I made some general comments on Paul Ryan's use of Rand's thinking to support his policy objectives. In this more complete examination of a related theme, I would like to move on to Ryan's (and now Romney's) budget plan, the 60-page "Path to Prosperity," in which he lays out his vision and fills in a few (but not enough) of his goals for the next eight to ten years.
If you care to, the plan is available on line and is certainly worth reading. What is most interesting about the plan is that it spends most of its copy describing what is wrong with the various government programs now in effect and gives reasons why they should be changed or, even better, eliminated. Detail for actual change is slim.
What is most telling about the phrasing of the plan is the absence of any bi-partisan cooperation as a means of implementing its objectives. For example, on page seven, under Health Care, the Ryan plan "Repeals the job-destroying health care law," whereas the President's proposed budget "Accelerates the job-destroying health care law." No grounds for cooperation there.
Ryan's long discussion of the evils of Medicare and Medicaid (starting on page 38) begins with this statement: "From a moral perspective, these programs are failing the very people they are intended to help." Notice that he does not begin by suggesting pragmatic change or corrective alternatives, but rather posits that government supported programs are in themselves a moral problem.
My understanding of a moral problem occurs when people cheat the system and steal funds designed to provide care to the poor. Clearly, these are moral problems, but Ryan's focus are the programs themselves and not the abuse of their implementation. We are led to believe that Medicare and Medicaid are immoral on their face.
He then exposes his true colors by adding a vivid image of welfare abuse: "The safety net should never become a hammock, lulling able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency." A hammock for the able-bodied indeed. He goes on to state the positive aim which is "to empower individuals, putting them in stronger position to achieve." Fine, but the damage has been done. The image of the hammock remains, taking us back to Ronald Reagan's 1976 "welfare queen" from Chicago's South Side.
In another area where Ryan would make cuts is in housing assistance. The plan reads, "Encourage recipients of federal housing aid to lead lives of increased self-sufficiency by decreasing disparities between assisted and unassisted renters and by making aid contingent on work or job training." The phrase "decreasing disparities between assisted and unassisted renters" is a thinly veiled intent to raise the rents of those receiving assistance to market rates while requiring work or, at least, enrollment in job training. A side note: Job training programs will be reduced or eliminated.
As to taxes, and here is the crux, Ryan advocates cutting the top income tax rate to 25 percent, which is below the pre-Bush top marginal rate scheduled to take effect next year. The only way to do so while keeping overall tax revenues at around 20 percent, is to eliminate a wide range of tax breaks. The biggest tax break is of course the mortgage deduction. And since according to the 2010 census, 70 percent of American homes have a mortgage and 67 percent of Americans own their own homes, that means it will be the middle who will really shoulder the burden.
Some even suggest that the Ryan plan will in effect eliminate the middle altogether. Will some disagree with this analysis? Of course, but it is up to Romney and Ryan to demonstrate that what appears to be the case is not, and they must to do so convincingly and not through white board scribbles, denials or vague reassurances.