On Tuesday House Republicans, led by Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, will unveil a suicide pact, in the form of a new budget that ignores the clear views of the majority of Americans, and which, if they embrace it almost unanimously, as they did last year's similar Ryan Budget, will put a gun to the head of Republican attempts to keep control of the House -- and then pull the trigger.
The only thing that could save Republicans would be if Democrats, like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden or House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, persuaded their party to ignore American public opinion and join with the GOP in destroying Medicare, cutting Social Security, and slashing public spending in a way that cripples the economy and rewards the wealthy. That's what the Ryan Republican budget would do, and Democrats -- and Americans who believe in majority rule -- need to explain the extreme nature of this budget to the American people.
Despite getting hammered by Democrats last year, the GOP is gambling that going big and bold on their fiscal blueprint -- think major changes to Medicare and Medicaid -- will convince voters the GOP is the nation's responsible party, comprised of lawmakers attuned to the nation's fiscal woes.
Do Americans Prioritize Cutting Deficits Over Creating Jobs? No
But there is a reason Democrats hammered them last year: poll after poll assembled by CAF's American Majority Project show definitively that while the deficit may be a big issue inside the beltway, being perceived as creating jobs is a far better public image than being perceived as a budget cutter. The March 7-11 CBS News/New York Times Poll asked simply, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" and 51 percent of respondents said the most important problem is the economy and jobs. The second answer was "Other," with 22 percent, with "Budget deficit/National debt" coming in at only 5 percent -- although it was the third most common answer (after jobs and "other").
Just like last year, the new Ryan Republican budget will first cut taxes for the very wealthy, and then, having blown a bigger hole in the revenue side of the budget, achieves much of its long-term spending savings by turning Medicare into a voucher to buy private health insurance. Will the American majority buy it?
The February 2012 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that a whopping 70 percent of Americans say "Medicare should continue as it is today, with the government guaranteeing seniors health insurance and making sure that everyone gets the same defined set of benefits," while only 25 percent say "Medicare should be changed to a system in which the government would guarantee each senior a fixed amount of money to put toward health insurance." Their question actually models the option that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden put into the mix: "Seniors would purchase that coverage either from traditional Medicare or from a list of private health plan." But that Medicare option did not help. Kaiser reported, "There is currently no wholehearted support among Americans for making major reductions to Medicare in service of deficit reduction."
The last Ryan budget does not propose specific cuts in Social Security benefits. (But Daniel Marans of Social Security Works reminds us that "[f]or some insight into where Ryan's heart lies, however, we have his privatization scheme in his 2010 Roadmap for America's Future, aka the Highway to Hell.") But the last Ryan budget does create an unprecedented new fast-track procedure to ram through Social Security cuts on any year Security is not in 75-year balance (even if that arises due to short-term changes in costs or revenues, like the current recession). This "expedited process" might result in the following draconian changes: 1) raise the full retirement age to 69, and the earliest eligibility age to 64 (13-percent cut); 2) cut the cost of living allowance by adopting the Chained CPI, cutting $108 billion in benefits over 10 years.
What do Americans think of messing with Social Security? They are against cutting Social Security benefits. They are against raising the retirement age. And they know that Social Security has its own revenue source (the Social Security taxes we pay) and therefore doesn't contribute to the deficit.
And what does the American Majority think of the Ryan Republican plans for slashing spending?
According to calculations from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, two thirds of the spending cuts in the last Ryan budget are for programs that serve low-income Americans. A February 6-13, 2012 nationwide poll by Harris Interactive found:
Only 12% of the public want to see a cut in Social Security payments, 21% want to cut federal aid to education and 22% want to cut federal health care programs. The only programs of the 20 listed in the poll that majorities of Americans want to cut are foreign economic aid (79%), foreign military aid (74%), subsidies to business (57%), and the space program (52%).
So What About Cutting Taxes for the Wealthy in a Budget Focused on Deficit Reduction?
The Ryan budget would actually cut taxes on the wealthy, while slashing public spending. But strong majorities of Americans actually favor increasing, not cutting, taxes on the wealthy. A September 2011 Gallup Poll finds that 66 percent of Americans are in favor of increasing income taxes on individuals earning at least $200,000 and families earning at least $250,000. And the same poll showed 70 percent of Americans approve of increasing taxes on some corporations.
They Are Putting the Gun to Their Head
So, the brand-new Ryan Republican budget, so very like last year's Ryan budget, is already unpopular with the American majority, in all of its major elements. Progressives and Democrats should immediately publicize its many unpopular pieces so the public knows about them all. We should immediately demand to know whether the Republican candidates for president embrace it. And we should keep a wary eye out for Democrats who are willing to give the Republicans cover. When the Paul Ryan Republicans -- enemies of everything the American majority believe in -- are putting a gun to their heads and are about to pull the trigger, progressives should get out of the way and publicize the results -- from now until the November elections.