Paul Ryan

Rounding Up the Ryan Budget: Bad Numbers and Cost-Shifting

I wrote a lot about the magic behind Ryan's budget and GOP economic strategy yesterday, so I'd like to round up some of the smart commentary and analysis about it.

After half the national media descended on their obviously ridiculous employment projections, Heritage scrubbed the numbers from their report - seriously shameful stuff. Here are the links (via Krugman):

As of yesterday.

As of today.

Paul Krugman did a lot of work over the past two days breaking apart the economics and showing the of Ryan budget. As he writes, the part that hasn't gotten enough coverage is the fact that

the biggest source of supposed savings in the plan isn't actually health care, it's an assumption that federal spending on everything except health and Social Security can somehow be squeezed, as a percent of GDP, to a small fraction of current levels. 

Ezra Klein explains why Ryan's projections of health care costs over time are completely unrealistic, and makes this very important point:

This is an important point: there's difference between cutting costs and shifting them. As the Congressional Budget Office noted, a lot of what Ryan's budget does is shift costs from the federal budget to someone else's budget: Medicaid's costs moves to the states, and then when the states cut it, to the people who need it, or to their families. Medicare's costs move to seniors, or to the families of seniors. The budget doesn't have a clear theory for how to spend less on health care. It has a clear theory for how the federal budget can spend less, and other people can spend more. But that's not good enough.

If you like the gory details, the Congressional Budget Office has analyzed Ryan's budget. It's not pretty.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein describes how two-thirds of Ryan's cuts come from low income programs.

While Paul Ryan and Alice Rivlin worked together on some Medicare reforms, she does not support the version he ultimately included in his budget, despite his implications to the contrary.

There's been a lot said and written in the last day describing Ryan's budget as an honest effort to address a major problem. Half the Members of Congress standing with Ryan yesterday called it "fact based." David Brooks wrote, "His proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion."

Here's the problem with all of that: the Ryan budget is simply not honest. The numbers in it and the economic analysis it relies on are wrong. You don't just get to put a bunch questionable numbers together, say it handles our deficit and debt issues, and declare victory. The tough part is that the plan has to actually handle the issues, and probably shouldn't do so on the backs of the most vulnerable. (One of the core principles of the Bowles-Simpson effort was to protect the truly disadvantaged.) So if Ryan sets the standard for seriousness, that standard is incredibly low.

The Magical Economy, Brought to You by Paul Ryan and the Heritage Foundation

This piece also appeared on The Huffington Post.

When Paul Ryan unveiled his budget today, he touted it as a "Path to Prosperity" and he and his colleagues kept saying it was "based in fact." In reality, Ryan's claims of prosperity are based on an analysis - written at his request by the conservative Heritage Foundation - that has more basis in magic than economics.

For starters, the Heritage analysis's unemployment projections alone are utter nonsense. It claims that - under the Ryan budget - unemployment will plummet from the current 8.8% to 6.4% next year, 4% in 2015, and 2.8% in 2021. Each number is totally impossible - we'll never see 2.8%, and 4% would require run-away economic growth. As Matt Yglesias points out, the Federal Reserve would respond to that type of growth by raising interest rates to avoid inflation, so the levels forecast could never be reached.  (As a reference point, full employment is around 5%, so 2.8% is a total fabrication.)

Furthermore, the Heritage report uses an almost comical conceptual explanation (under the heading "Economic and Fiscal Results" on page 3) of how the tax cuts in the Ryan plan pay for themselves and reduce the deficit. This would be great, if it were actually true. The Bush tax cuts did not come anywhere close to paying for themselves, nor have other large cuts to upper income tax rates. From the Chair of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, Greg Mankiw:

I used the phrase "charlatans and cranks" in the first edition of my principles textbook to describe some of the economic advisers to Ronald Reagan, who told him that broad-based income tax cuts would have such large supply-side effects that the tax cuts would raise tax revenue. I did not find such a claim credible, based on the available evidence. I never have, and I still don't.

The unfortunately truth is that this Heritage "analysis" represents the lack of reality in which conservative economic policymaking functions. Paul Ryan is getting a lot of credit today for pointing out a large challenge facing America. Sure, we do have a debt problem, but we need to view it in its proper economic context.

America has two large economic problems. The first is an economy that's just not working in the face of rising global competition: a lost decade of median household income decline and wage stagnation followed by a recession and financial crisis from which we have yet to fully emerge. The second is a long-term structural debt problem: the federal government's expenditures far exceed its revenue, and that trend will be exacerbated by rising healthcare costs. And debt is a problem because it can impact the economy itself; it's not right now.

The President's budget is a credible response to the economic challenge: investments in education, infrastructure, innovation, and industries of the future represent a viable economic plan. It also makes down-payments - if incomplete - on long-term debt issues. Let's not forget though, that he already passed the most significant piece of deficit reduction legislation in recent memory - the Affordable Care Act, which the GOP wants to repeal. As former Obama OMB Director Peter Orszag often said, health care reform is entitlement reform. And the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission report, which Ryan voted against, recommends building on the ACA's cost-controls as a major form of deficit reduction.

Let's contrast the President's approach with the House Republican approach of massive cuts in the near-term and Ryan's budget, which focuses on dramatically reducing the size of government. In the near-term, the House GOP agenda of $61 billion in cuts would, according to McCain campaign economic adviser Mark Zandi, cause 700,000 jobs to be lost by the end of 2012, and, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, cause the loss of 200,000 jobs. Goldman Sachs estimates a 1.5 to 2% reduction in GDP.

In the long term, Ryan offers no strategy to make America more competitive, increase employment, or make people's lives better. Rather, he offers reduced benefits, namely to the elderly, the poor, and the handicapped, and cuts taxes for the wealthy. (His one sop to competitiveness is corporate tax reform, which President Obama also favors.) Forget about the immorality of his budget for a moment, (well, don't, it's pretty appalling) the fact is that Ryan's budget offers no real path to economic growth, other than fudged numbers from the Heritage Foundation, and a questionable, slash and burn approach to deficit reduction.

Taken together, it's clear that the GOP isn't focused on the real problems facing the country. At a time when Americans want more jobs and more growth, the GOP strategy - if you believe the analyses of George W. Bush's Federal Reserve Chair, a McCain economic adviser, and Goldman Sachs - is to create less. And, if you believe the analysis of Bush's Council of Economic Advisor Chair, their deficit reduction strategy is deeply flawed too. Unless, of course, you believe the Heritage Foundation's analysis that Paul Ryan's budget is made of magic.

Paul Ryan Wants to Know What He Gets for Not Letting America Default

From The Hill's blog:

"The debt ceiling, obviously, is going to have to be increased if we're not going to default, so the question is, what do we get in exchange for that, and what kind of fiscal controls?" said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the incoming chairman of the House budget panel, last week on Bloomberg Television.

Ryan's question - what do I get in exchange for not letting the United States of America default? - has only one answer: a $174,000 paycheck for being a member of the United States Congress. This is going to be an interesting battle over the next few months, but Ryan's current position of demanding something that fits his ideology in exchange for not ruining America's credit could easily be considered unpatriotic.

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