Paul Ryan’s Break With the Past: Tax Cuts for the Rich!


Paul Ryan reaches deep into the conservative movement’s storehouse of ideas on America’s most pressing policy programs and comes up with an innovative agenda of tax cuts mostly tilted toward the wealthy and corporations paired with a five-year freeze on discretionary spending. If, superficially, this seems like a warmed-over version of the McCain campaign economic agenda that the voters rejected just a few months ago, you need to pay more attention—McCain was just calling for a one-year freeze on discretionary spending after which reductions in government outlays would be achieved by magic. Ryan, by contrast, is proposing a five-year freeze.

Basically, you can imagine a school that today is serving a certain number of children and has a certain budget. Well, over the course of five years the population will grow and the number of kids in that school will also increase. But the school won’t get any additional money. Instead, because there’s inflation, the school will actually be getting less money even as it needs to teach more children. And so on across the board for federal programs. If you think that there’s literally nothing in the entire federal budget that’s useful, this may strike you as an appealing idea. Otherwise, April fools!

Meanwhile, the op-ed is a bit unclear on this point, but it appears to include a proposal to scrap Medicare in favor of a system of vouchers. The idea here is to “solve” the problem of health care cost inflation driving higher Medicare costs by replacing a guarantee of health care with a guarantee of a lump sum of money that would not grow as rapidly as the cost in health care. Basically, we would “solve” the problem of paying for senior citizens’ health care by just . . . not paying for senior citizens’ health care. Demonstrating a lack of commitment to the underlying principle, Ryan promises not to actually afflict anyone currently over the age of 55 with this policy. The hope is that everyone born since 1954 is too short-sighted to actually care about what fate awaits them upon retirement, while the guarantee of continued actual Medicare for those born before 1954 is supposed to immunize Ryan from their wrath.