Quick! Somebody tell President Obama. Alert the members of Congress. Shout it out to the media: I have balanced the budget!
That’s right. Me. Bill Press, talk-show host. I did it. I can’t balance my own checkbook, but I balanced the federal budget. In fact, I also created a huge surplus. And I did it by eliminating the entire executive branch of government – the presidency, the White House, the vice president, the Cabinet, all those federal agencies and departments? Gone!
Now, of course, my balanced budget is phony. It’s a joke. But here’s the point: My balanced budget is no phonier, and no more of a joke, than Paul Ryan’s balanced budget for 2014, released this week with such fanfare in Washington. His budget is DOA. It’s not a serious document because Ryan bases his entire budget on repeal of Obamacare, which is never going to happen. It’s not going to happen because it has already been in place for two years, and it’s working. It’s been upheld by the Supreme Court, and, already, eight Republican governors have signed onto its expansion of Medicaid.
There’s nothing new in Ryan’s budget, either. Not one single new idea. In fact, it’s identical to the last two budgets he’s put forth – neither of which got anywhere beyond the Republican caucus in the House. Once again, Ryan would, in effect, destroy Medicaid and food stamps by turning both programs over to the states, which can’t afford them. One more time, he proposes replacing Medicare with a voucher program, while offering vouchers not even big enough to cover the cost of basic health care. And he includes in his budget the $716 billion in Medicare savings he accused President Obama of cutting from benefits during the 2012 campaign.
Just like his last two nonstarters, Ryan’s 2014 budget is also all about spending cuts, $5 trillion worth. Search all 91 pages, but you will not find one single penny of new revenue. Not one single tax loophole closed. Not for big oil companies, corporations who move jobs or money overseas, agribusiness, or owners of corporate jets. Then, having preserved tax breaks for the privileged few, Ryan makes things even sweeter for them – he lowers the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and the top individual rate from 39 percent to 25 percent, which, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, means an average tax windfall of at least $200,000 for every millionaire in America.
In addition to making you wonder how anybody could take the Ryan budget seriously, its publication this week raises, I believe, two fundamental questions. First: What kind of time warp does Paul Ryan (and his fellow Republicans) live in? Did he forget that he proposed the same failed policies in his 2013 budget? And in his budget for 2012? More importantly, did he forget that we had an election in November 2012 on these very same issues – an election in which he was the vice-presidential nominee – and he and Mitt Romney lost that battle by almost 5 million votes?
Second question: Why does Paul Ryan enjoy such a reputation as a big thinker? I almost fell off my seat at a recent White House briefing when Press Secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama believes that Ryan is “a thought leader in the Republican Party.” And the president is not alone. Time magazine, after gushing over his “jet black hair” and “piercing blue eyes,” praised Ryan “as a Republican who has put forward budget ideas that are thoughtful and serious.” Columnist David Brooks called his 2012 budget “the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes.” Professed liberal Jacob Weisberg of Slate praised a previous Ryan budget plan as “brave, radical and smart.”
Oh, please. Get a room! Or at least tell the truth. Paul Ryan’s budget isn’t brave, radical or smart. It’s filled with nothing but recycled Republican pipe dreams. It doesn’t even add up. And it’s colossally dumb because, again, it all depends on the repeal of Obamacare, which ain’t gonna happen.
Ryan is no big thinker, either. It doesn’t take a genius to trot out the same failed ideas three years in a row and pretend they’re for real. Paul Ryan’s a snake-oil salesman. He’s today’s flim-flam man. He’s a con artist. But most reporters don’t care. They’re in love with his piercing blue eyes.