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And the “Centrist” Rush to Praise a Fantasy Paul Ryan Begins


Now this is a good, old-fashioned Slate pitch from Will Saletan. In addition to the countless other problems — in what sense is the conservatism of Ryan not the conservatism of Boehner and McConnell? — he has James Stewart’s problem of projecting things onto Ryan’s agenda that aren’t actually there:

Ryan also shows that a real conservative doesn’t worship any part of the budget, including defense. His expenditure caps can’t be squared with Romney’s nutty pledge to keep military spending above four percent of GDP.

I agree that it would be nice to have a Republican who would advocate major cuts in defense spending. Unlike Saletan, this would not compel me to support someone who wants to make sure that many Americans lack access to decent health care, decent pensions, decent government services, or reproductive rights, but it would be something. The problem is, the actually existing Paul Ryan favors increases in defense spending, that would make his cuts to other domestic programs even more savage:

The House Republican budget released Tuesday would shield the Pentagon from nearly $500 billion in automatic cuts and roll back some of the $487 billion reduction approved in last year’s Budget Control Act.

The plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) asks six congressional committees — but not Armed Services — to find $261 billion in savings to help roll back the automatic cuts through sequestration that were triggered by the failure of the supercommittee.

The Ryan plan also increases national defense spending to $554 billion in 2013, an increase of $8 billion over the $546 billion that was agreed to under the Budget Control Act.

In addition, leaving aside whether or not it’s a desirable trait in a politician, Saletan’s fantasy Ryan who’s a “fiscal conservative” who would “think like an accountant” also bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real Ryan, who is a standard-issue Republican supply-sider who doesn’t care at all about deficits, or indeed anything but a massive upward redistribution of wealth (and increasing our already bloated defense budget):

Whether Ryan’s plan even is a “deficit-reduction plan” is highly debatable. Ryan promises to eliminate trillions of dollars’ worth of tax deductions, but won’t identify which ones. He proposes to sharply reduce government spending that isn’t defense, Medicare (for the next decade, anyway), or Social Security, but much of that reduction is unspecified, and when Obama named some possible casualties, Ryan complained that those hypotheticals weren’t necessarily in his plan. Ryan is specific about two policies: massive cuts to income-tax rates, and very large cuts to government programs that aid the poor and medically vulnerable. You could call all this a “deficit-reduction plan,” but it would be more accurate to call it “a plan to cut tax rates and spending on the poor and sick.” Aside from a handful of exasperated commentators, like Paul Krugman, nobody does.

The persistent belief in the existence of an authentic, deficit hawk Ryan not only sweeps aside the ugly particulars of his agenda, it also ignores, well, pretty much everything he has done in his entire career, and pretty much everything he has said until about two years ago.


Ryan has, retroactively, depicted himself as a dissenter from the fiscal profligacy of the Bush administration, and reporters have mostly accepted his account at face value. (“Ryan watched his party’s leadership inflate the deficit by cutting tax rates like Kemp conservatives while spending like Kardashians,” wrote Time last year.) In reality, Ryan was a staunch ally in Bush’s profligacy, dissenting only to urge Bush to jack up the deficit even more.

“We noticed that the green-eyeshade, austerity wing of the party was afraid of class warfare,” Ryan said during Bush’s first term. “They fear increases in the debt, and they were overlooking issues of growth, opportunity, and free markets.” For those uninitiated in the tribal lingo of Beltway conservatives, this may sound like gibberish. But those inside the conservative subculture invest these buzzwords with deep meaning. “Green eyeshade” is a term of abuse appropriated by the supply-siders to describe Republicans who still cared more about deficit control than cutting taxes. “Growth” and “opportunity” mean tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, and “class warfare” means any criticism thereof. Ryan’s centrist admirers hear his frequent confessions that both parties have failed as an ideological concession. What he means is that Republicans were insufficiently fanatical in their devotion to cutting taxes for the rich.

In 2001, Ryan led a coterie of conservatives who complained that George W. Bush’s $1.2 trillion tax cut was too small, and too focused on the middle class. In 2003, he lobbied Republicans to pass Bush’s deficit-­financed prescription-drug benefit, which bestowed huge profits on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. In 2005, when Bush campaigned to introduce private accounts into Social Security, Ryan fervently crusaded for the concept. He was the sponsor in the House of a bill to create new private accounts funded entirely by borrowing, with no benefit cuts. Ryan’s plan was so staggeringly profligate, entailing more than $2 trillion in new debt over the first decade alone, that even the Bush administration opposed it as “irresponsible.”

For a further antidote, see Pierce.

…on the one hand, Ryan favors eviscerating the social safety net to fund upper-class tax cuts, making abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states, and permitting hospitals to refuse to perform abortions even when they’re necessary to save a woman’s life. But on the other hand, Ryan’s wife wears a Green Bay packers sweatshirt! If you were a real feminist, like Ann Althouse, you’d focus on real issues like that. Have you ever seen Michelle Obama wearing a Blackhawks jersey? I rest my case!

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