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Peter Wehner’s Error-Riddled Defense of the Ryan Budget

April 3, 2012, 8:30 am | Posted by Nick Sementelli

Peter WehnerIn Wednesday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Peter Wehner of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center responds to John Gehring and Rev. Bryan Massingale’s recent op-ed about the immorality of Paul Ryan’s federal budget plan by accusing John and Rev. Massingale of “substantive ignorance” and opting for “moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts.”

However, Wehner doesn’t seem to grasp how a fact-check works, as his retort is laden with unsubstantiated, misleading, illogical and flat-out false claims. Here are just a few of his factually deficient arguments:

1. “Medicare is the main driver of our debt”

This is like blaming the symptom for the disease. Long-term projected growth in Medicare spending has nothing to do with the Medicare program itself (which is actually more cost efficient than the private market) and everything to do with rising health care costs across the whole industry. “Fixing” the problem as Paul Ryan suggests by making the elderly pay a larger and larger share of these unaddressed costs is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

2. “Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs such as S-CHIP and Medicaid…it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs”

This is completely false. Wehner either feels no obligation to tell the truth or no need to inform himself of the Ryan plan’s content before accusing others of ignorance. The Congressional Budget Office report on the bill (which was based entirely on the rosy conditions and assumptions Paul Ryan supplied them) documents the exact opposite: “Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—from 2 percent of GDP in 2011 to 1¼ percent in 2030 and 1 percent in 2050.” In the short term, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that Ryan’s budget cuts Medicaid by $810 billion  and SNAP – one of our most effective anti-poverty programs – by $134 billion over the next ten years.

Ryan himself doesn’t even claim to spare domestic anti-poverty programs from deep cuts. Instead he boasts about his cuts as a solution to “government dependency” and the “barriers to upward mobility” that he believes anti-poverty programs cause.

3. “the 1996 welfare reform bill was the most dramatic and successful social innovation in decades… A decade after the 1996 welfare reform bill was passed into law, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty and child hunger all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers rose.”

Artfully wielding the correlation/causation fallacy, Wehner ignores the fact that the improvements in poverty he cites were mostly a result of an improving economy and the Earned Income Tax Credit, not welfare reform. He further obscures the failure of welfare reform by cherry-picking the data. The time period he cites as proof of reform’s success conveniently ends in 2006,  before the Great Recession that eliminated these economic gains. Taking a look at the years after –which put a serious strain on our social safety net — reveals that welfare reform was anything but a “dramatic and successful innovation.”

4. Unless we alter the current course of fiscal events, we will end up like European nations, in which cuts in government programs are drastic, painful, immediate and disproportionately targeted on the vulnerable and powerless.

So basically, in order to avoid sudden, catastrophic cuts in the future, Wehner says we should just lock those cuts into place today. And since those cuts (which exclude defense spending) would effectively require a complete dismantling of the domestic discretionary budget it’s safe to say that the Ryan/Wehner alternative to the dreaded “European welfare state” is essentially just no government at all

5. In our current moment, understanding fiscal reality, including the ability to read charts and graphs and do basic math, has become something of an ethical imperative.

Finally, something we can agree upon!

Dan Nejfelt contributed to this post

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