The Ryan budget is a remarkable document: all of its budget cuts hammer working class families, seniors, and students — while all of its tax cuts go straight to millionaires. It does almost nothing to deal with the deficit, yet still manages to deal a death blow to virtually every member of the working middle class and everyone trying to work their way into it. It is especially hard on seniors and the most vulnerable in society in the midst of the toughest economic times since the Great Depression, doing serious economic damage to anyone who isn’t a millionaire, oil company, or Wall Street bank. The good news, for those who are millionaires? They get so many economic benefits it will be hard to keep track of them all.
Let’s start with the deficit itself. According to a new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, the actual deficit reduction in the Ryan plan would be only an average of $15 billion a year over the next 10 years. If we end up at a consistent 2.8 percent unemployment rate in spite of all the economic devastation this budget would bring to the middle class (which would be the lowest unemployment since the peak years of the 1950s), get out of the wars we are in pretty quickly, start no new wars or humanitarian “police actions,” have the kind of income growth we haven’t seen since the 1960s, and have no big terrorist attacks or natural disasters we have to deal with, the Ryan budget theoretically gets us to a balanced budget by about 2040.
Great. I can get to a balanced budget a lot faster than that, and do it without dismantling Medicare and Medicaid, and without taking an axe to Pell Grants, Head Start, and meals for shut-in seniors and hungry children. Heck, Jan Schakowsky’s plan balances the entire budget except for interest payments on the national debt in five years. You can easily balance the budget in less than 10 years, even including those interest payments, simply by cutting the waste in military spending, reforming the government contracting procedures, ending tax loopholes for investment bankers and offshore companies, ending subsidies to oil companies and big agribusinesses, taxing speculative financial trades, and having millionaires pay taxes at the same rate they did under Ronald Reagan.
The Ryan budget has nothing — not a single frickin’ thing — to do with cutting the federal deficit. It is all about income redistribution, simple as that. If you take away the budget savings Ryan claims from projecting that the wars we are in will wind down soon, he has $4.3 trillion in budget cuts and $4.2 trillion in tax cuts. And I bet you can guess which fact comes next: the budget cuts are targeted almost 100 percent at programs that help low-income families and the working middle class, while the tax cuts are almost entirely directed toward the wealthiest 10 percent. In fact, that comment on taxes is an understatement: Citizens for Tax Justice has an analysis showing that 90 percent of Americans will see their taxes go up under the Ryan budget, because the tax breaks his bill calls for actually total more than $4.1 trillion. The bottom 80 percent would pay $1,700 more in taxes under Ryan’s plan, while the top 1 percent (those making more than $460,000 dollars per year) would pay more than $211,000 less on average. As the folks at CTJ say, “It is difficult to design a tax plan that will lose $2 trillion over a decade while requiring 90% of taxpayers to pay more. But Congressman Ryan has met that daunting challenge.”
In the meantime, the plan:
- Cuts $2.17 trillion in Medicaid spending, some of it by eliminating 32 million people from health care coverage, and some of it through massive cuts in nursing home coverage.
- Cuts $750 billion from programs for low-income people other than Medicaid, including Pell Grants, food stamps, education, training programs, and social services.
- Waits 10 years so CBO can’t count it, and then proceeds to take away Medicare as we know it, shredding the idea of guaranteed coverage and putting senior citizens at the mercy of private insurance companies. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research tells me that the Medicare cuts through 2030 would amount to $800 billion, and through 2050 would amount to $8.9 trillion.
- Doesn’t give a CBO-scorable number for its Social Security cuts either, but creates a “trigger” mechanism that forces automatic votes on Social Security cuts if the 75-year actuarial tables show any deficit at all. The way that is written, no matter how big a surplus Social Security has, or is creating, every year there would be automatic votes on cutting Social Security benefits.
The modern Republican Party has been taken over by a lunatic fringe of conservatives that are making a concerted, determined assault on the American working middle class. They are trying to destroy unions for firefighters, cops, teachers, and nurses. They want to make dramatic cuts in Social Security, or privatize it entirely. They want to end the guaranteed health coverage of Medicare, and put seniors on their own, at the mercy of private insurance companies. They want to make dramatic cuts in nursing home coverage and medical care for the disadvantaged through Medicaid. They want to slash funding for Pell Grants, Head Start, education, veterans benefits, and disability benefits. They want to slash funding that allows the EPA to enforce the laws that keep our water and air clean, and slash the funding for the oversight that helps consumers and homeowners defend themselves against Wall Street predators.
Why do these conservatives want to do all this? Well, partly because they just hate government and everything it does, but mostly so they can give more tax cuts to millionaires, and subsidies and loopholes to big oil companies and banks. The Ryan budget, the attacks on unions, Eric Cantor’s admission that “these programs [such as Social Security] cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be,” and Spencer Bachus stating “my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks” are all part of the same story. These priorities seem pretty strange to me, and they probably do to you, but to the Republican Party, they are just business as usual. You have to dance with those who brung you, as the old saying goes, and the Koch brothers and the Wall Street bankers brought these Republicans to the dance.