In last night’s State of the Union, President Obama spent a significant amount of time on matters pertaining to the country’s deficit and debt, committing to continue important investments in things like education and energy while also suggesting a five-year freeze in “non-security” discretionary spending. (Once upon a time, Obama mocked budget gimmicks of this sort.) But overall, the speech was about maintaining a government that can serve an important role in helping America progress the 21st century.
The official Republican response, from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul (R-WI), laid out a very different picture, in which America is headed for a debt crisis and the sort of ugliness associated with European nations like Greece and Ireland. Ryan warned that unless the U.S. immediately starts hacking its budget to bits, “large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody” will be the only remaining solution:
Speaking candidly, as one citizen to another: We still have time… but not much time. If we continue down our current path, we know what our future will be. Just take a look at what’s happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn’t act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody. Their day of reckoning has arrived. Ours is around the corner. That is why we must act now.
But Ryan conveniently failed to mention that his preferred vision for addressing the country’s fiscal issues — his Roadmap for America’s Future — involves…wait for it…benefit cuts and huge tax increases! In fact, he plain aims to balance the budget via privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher system that doesn’t come close to keeping up with the cost of health care.
At the same time, the plan raises taxes on 90 percent of Americans, and ultimately would result in the effective tax rate for a middle class family being higher than the rate for a millionaire. But still, using Ryan’s own overly optimistic assumptions, the plan wouldn’t balance the budget for 50 years. Why? Because of dramatic reductions in taxes for the very richest Americans and the complete elimination of the corporate income tax.
Though he didn’t deign to mention it, Ryan’s ultimate vision is staving off benefit cuts and tax increases by implementing benefit cuts and tax increases. And while he was at it, Ryan drew a messy comparison between the United States and European countries that bears no resemblance to reality. As Paul Krugman put it, “I guess we’re supposed to take heed of what Ryan believes happened in Europe, never mind that it isn’t what actually happened.”