Paul Ryan’s not-so-fact-based conversation
When Paul Ryan spoke at Georgetown last week, he made a point to acknowledge the letter sent to him by over 90 faculty members criticizing his use of Catholic social teaching to justify his budget. In response, he noted that he also brought a copy of his budget “so that we can have a fact-based conversation on the facts as they are, not — as I would say — as some have reinterpreted it [sic].”
This defense was just one part of a multipronged retort to his critics. Ryan also penned an op-ed defending his budget in the friendly pages of the National Catholic Register. Unfortunately, in addition to offering his usual highly selective doctrinal arguments, Ryan’s essay contains numerous claims that fail to live up to his aspiration of a “fact-based conversation.” Here’s just a few of the many misleading claims that caught my eye:
- “The debt is weighing on job creation today.”
Au contraire. The primary drags on job growth right now are weak demand and public-employee layoffs caused by government budget cuts. I suppose Ryan’s argument here is a little too vague to dismiss altogether, but the primary way debt retards growth and jobs is by forcing up interest rates. That’s just not happening right now.
- “As a result, more and more of society’s most vulnerable remain mired in public-assistance programs whose outdated structures often act as a trap that hinders upward mobility.”
Although Ryan doesn’t name specific programs here, it’s safe to assume he’s talking about ones he intends to slash, such as food stamps and Medicaid. However, neither of these programs fit Ryan’s description. I’m curious about how Ryan thinks making food and healthcare unaffordable for the working poor, children, seniors and the unemployed increase their upward mobility? Hunger and sickness aren’t exactly conducive to success.
- “For example, in a misapplication of solidarity, politicians in both parties expanded big government for decades. These policies have had dismal results. One out of every six people in the United States is now living below the poverty level — the largest number of poor people on record.”
Clever, but mendacious. If you’re going to argue that “big government” is the reason 1-in-6 Americans is in poverty, offer some credible evidence. If anything, “small government” ideology – as manifested in laying off public employees instead of raising new revenues, Wall Street deregulation that led to the economic crisis, and blocking economic stimulus such as the American Jobs Act – is what’s yielded “dismal results.”
- “Our budget builds on the successful welfare reforms of the 1990s, using federal subsidium to empower state and local governments, communities and individuals — those closest to the problems of society.”
Wrong again. As Ed Kilgore deftly pointed out, Ryan’s budget cuts are completely different than welfare reform. Leaving aside the long-term failure of welfare reform for a moment, at least that program replaced one form of assistance (AFDC) with another (TANF and expansion of food stamps). By simply slashing protections for the poor, Ryan is replacing something with nothing.
- “President Barack Obama’s health-care law puts a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of cutting Medicare. This is wrong. I do not believe we should turn the fate of our parents and grandparents over to an unaccountable board and let it make decisions that could deny them access to their care.”
This one’s just a plain old lie. The Independent Payment Advisory Board, which Ryan is referring to here, explicitly does not have the power to cut Medicare. It can only make recommendations, which Congress either accepts or rejects. This distortion is merely a gentler version of the “death panels” attack on the IPAB during of the health care debate.
- “Our budget has been criticized for giving tax cuts to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. It does no such thing.”
- “But revenue would still rise every year under our budget because our economy grows and because our budget proposes to eliminate special-interest loopholes that go primarily to the influential and well-off.”
Shenanigans. Ryan refuses to say which of these loopholes he’d close and explicitly rejects closing the preferential tax rates on capital gains and dividends, which allow people like Mitt Romney and Warren Buffett to pay lower taxes than I do.
In addition to all he does say about the debt, Ryan continues his pattern of omitting the significant role the Bush tax cuts have played in ballooning the deficit and the debt. Ryan’s consistent silence on this amounts to simply pretending these budget-busting, 1%-centric tax cuts didn’t happen, and his failure to even entertain the possibility of increasing revenues shows that he isn’t serious about responsibly addressing the debt. Rather, he’s serious about using the debt as an excuse to enact a radical agenda that brings more money for the richest Americans, more suffering for the poor, and less security for the middle class. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Ryan is treated as such a morally serious leader.