Can You Deserve Respect But Be Wrong? ctd
Here’s a bit of a roundup from around the web on Paul Ryan and his budget plan.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has, however, stepped into the breach. Its numbers indicate that the Ryan plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. If you add these revenue losses to the numbers The Post cites, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughly $1.3 trillion.
And that’s about the same as the budget office’s estimate of the 2020 deficit under the Obama administration’s plans. That is, Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible — which you shouldn’t — the Roadmap wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich.
I asked the CBO to analyze the long-term revenue impact of the “Roadmap,” but officials declined to do so because revenue estimates are the jurisdiction of the Joint Tax Committee. The Joint Tax Committee does not produce revenue estimates beyond the 10-year window, and so I worked with Treasury Department tax officials in setting the tax reform rates to keep revenues consistent with their historical average.
What critics such as Krugman fail to understand is that our looming debt crisis is driven by the explosive growth of government spending – not from a lack of tax revenue.
Krugman also recycles the disingenuous claim that the “Roadmap” – the only proposal certified to make our entitlement programs solvent – would “end Medicare as we know it.”
Ironically, doing nothing, as Democrats would prefer, is certain to end entitlement programs as we know them, and in the process, beneficiaries would face painful cuts to these programs. Conversely, the “Roadmap” would pre-empt these cuts in a way that prevents unnecessary disruptions for current beneficiaries.
In other words, Ryan could have gotten JCT to do a 10-year estimate; it just wouldn’t go beyond that. And he chose not to get that 10-year estimate. So it was Ryan’s choice not to have any independent estimate of the 10-year revenue effects.
And bear in mind that the Tax Policy Center critique was five months ago. If Ryan disagreed with the center’s estimates, he could have gone back to the JCT to get a different set of estimates. He never did.
I don’t think Ryan is a charlatan or a flim-flam artist. More to the point, I think he’s playing an important role, and one I’m happy to try and help him play: The worlds of liberals and conservatives are increasingly closed loops. Very few politicians from one side are willing to seriously engage with the other side, particularly on substance. Substance is scary. Substance is where you can be made to look bad. And substance has occasionally made Ryan look bad. But the willingness to engage has made him look good. It’s given some people the information they need to decide him a charlatan, and others the information they need to decide him a bright spot. It’s also given Ryan a much deeper understanding of liberal ideas than most conservative politicians have.
Long ago — basically when I started writing for the Times — I decided that I would judge the character of politicians by what they say about policy, not how they come across in person.
And so I don’t care how Paul Ryan comes across. I look at how he has gone about selling his ideas, and I see an unscrupulous flimflammer.
Think about that CBO report: getting the CBO to score only the spending cuts, not the tax proposals, then taking credit for being a big deficit reducer, is simply sleazy. Not acknowledging that the zero nominal growth assumption, not the entitlement changes, is driving that 2020 score is also sleazy. And the whole pose of stern deficit hawk, when you know that there are real questions about whether your plan actually increases the deficit, is phoniness of a high order.
At any rate, the answer to Paul Krugman’s question “Why didn’t he ask” is that “He did, and they said no.”
While I remain skeptical that anything like the Roadmap is politically possible, Paul Ryan is doing exactly what any sensible congressional sponsor with limited access to CBO time does; he’s saying “Well, when this is getting close to being an actual bill, we’ll work with the CBO and the JCT to tweak the tax rates in order to provide the amount of revenue we need.” This is entirely normal, and was, incidentally, how the health care bill that Krugman so loves got its excellent CBO score; as I recall, the nascent plans were deficit busters and cost a lot more money. That’s why the Tax Policy Center blog is defending Ryan.
Well….OK. Up to a point. But look: Ryan surely has some responsibility to make the tax side of his plan as realistic as possible, especially given his chosen role as toughminded truthteller. And the Tax Policy Center made it pretty clear months ago that he wasn’t even close to his revenue goal. It’s easy to wave this off as requiring mere “tweaks” to the tax rates, but those tweaks are exactly the place where anyone would quite reasonably be most suspicious of Ryan’s willingness to play fair. After all, two or three points of GDP is a lot of money, and a tax skeptic like Ryan is going to have a very hard time making the changes necessary to come up with that kind of dough.
Ryan’s Roadmap is 70 pages long and obviously the result of a lot of work. So why not put in a little more work and bring the tax side of the plan into the realm of reason? Is it really that cynical to think it’s because he’s trying to get credit for being a deficit fighter without having to give up the dramatic tax cuts for the rich he so obviously has his heart set on?
Krugman alleges fraud because CBO did not score the revenue side of the Congressman’s plan. (This is correct as the Joint Committee on Taxation is responsible for providing the official revenue score of tax legislation.) Instead, CBO assumed that total federal tax revenues will be equal to “those under CBO’s alternative fiscal scenario … until they reach 19 percent of gross domestic product in 2030, and to remain at that share of GDP thereafter.” Contrary to Krugman’s claims, this assumption is not
unjustified. Ryan has explicitly stated that he is willing to work with the Treasury department to adjust the rates on his tax reform plan to “maintain approximately our historic levels of revenue as a share of GDP.” Since 1980 the federal tax revenue has been about 18 percent of GDP.
For Ryan’s plan to work, he needs 19 percent of GDP, which is what he claims to have. The Tax Policy Center pointed out months ago that he has 16, not 19. And Ryan hasn’t offered any new ideas. Instead, he’s still walking around DC dining out on his reputation for honesty and bold thinking. But to offer an honest plan to balance the budget your plan needs to balance the budget. I don’t really understand why this has become the subject of dispute. It seems to me that the 90 percent of members of congress who don’t claim to have a 70-year budget plan are the honest ones. For one thing, they’re not lying! For another thing, why do we even care about Paul Ryan’s plan to balance the budget in 2080?
When TPC looked at Ryan’s plan, its analysis concluded that the Roadmap wouldn’t raise nearly the amount of revenue that Ryan estimated and, as a result, would actually raise the deficit.
But this was all hashed out months ago between Ryan and the TPC. As Ryan has noted, his plan’s revenue estimates were made in consultation with the Treasury Department in 2009. And they were based on CBO’s alternative fiscal scenario, which, at the time the revenue projections were made, expected somewhat higher growth than when TPC performed its estimates. That probably explains some of the difference. But, says Ryan, if TPC’s projections looked to be accurate, he’d be happy to adjust his plan in order to meet his revenue targets.
TPC did analyze Sam’s marriage-specific claims about being a faithful husband and found they fell short of his 100 percent no-cheating pledge. For example, Sam has actually cheated on his wife an average of 1 day per week, which amounts to a fourteen percent shortfall compared to the claimed 100 percent faithfulness scenario. But that doesn’t mean that Sam’s claim of faithfulness is fraudulent. Instead, it shows that Sam’s vision of having sex with women who aren’t his wife needs to be adjusted in order to meet his stated goal of being a faithful husband. This indeed poses a challenge to Sam to make specific changes to his actions in order to match his claims of faithfulness. Sam has explicitly stated that he is willing to do so.
Again, I think that to just say “my political priority is to make the overall level of federal taxes as low as proves feasible” is a more honest posture than to release a fake balanced budget plan.
The tax reforms proposed and the rates specified were designed to maintain approximately our historic levels of revenue as a share of GDP, based on consultation with the Treasury Department and tax experts. If needed, adjustments can be easily made to the specified rates to hit the revenue targets and maximize economic growth. While minor tweaks can be made, it is clear that we simply cannot chase our unsustainable growth in spending with ever-higher levels of taxes. The purpose of the Roadmap is to get spending in line with revenue – not the other way around.
I look forward to continuing the dialogue with the Tax Policy Center and working with my colleagues in Congress to advance real solutions to our fiscal crisis.
Even if Ryan’s plan is worse than the status quo, not politically feasible, or both it seems that he’s honestly attempting to arrive at a policy solution to what he perceives as the nation’s economic and budgetary problems. Would I vote for his plan? No. Why can’t Krugman and others just stick to scrutinizing his economics, his rational, his ideology, and his policy’s effects? Do they need to torpedo his integrity as well? I just haven’t seen anything yet that appears deliberately dishonest from him – never mind by comparisons to typical pundits and politicians. It’s possible that my standards have been set so low due to the current mainstream of “conservatives.” For once we have some substance to criticize; do we really need to turn a policy discussion into an ad hominem brawl? It’s not that I don’t think Krugman, Yglesias, and others are resorting to ad hominem because they don’t have substantive critiques to make – it disappoints me because they have substantive critiques to make.
(image via Kevin Drum)