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Greg Ip on Paul Ryan’s “Fiscy”

Excellent post from Greg Ip on the strange notion of giving Representative Paul Ryan an award for commitment to deficit reduction:

It’s a good thing for Mr Ryan the Fiscy relates only to the fiscal year that ended on September 30th, because ever since then he’s been acting less like a deficit hawk. Like Mr Conrad, Mr Ryan was a member of the Bowles-Simpson commission. Unlike Mr Conrad, he voted against its plan to stabilise the debt despite calling it “serious and credible”. He opposed it because it left Mr Obama’s health-care reform intact, and because it relied too much on tax increases, even though these were smaller than the plan’s spending cuts. The opposition by Mr Ryan and his two fellow House Republicans more or less guaranteed the plan would die.

A few days later Mr Ryan congratulated Mr Obama for acting “responsibly” in capitulating to Republicans and agreeing to an $800 billion-plus package that extends all of George Bush’s tax cuts and implements new temporary stimulus composed overwhelmingly of tax cuts. Whatever its merits as stimulus, its complete absence of any linkage to long-term deficit reduction is antithetical to the principals behind the Fiscy. […]

[T]he most important reason to question Mr Ryan’s deficit-hawk credentials was his support for certain changes to the budget process to constrain spending. Specifically, “Paygo”, the current rule that requires any cut in taxes or increase in spending be offset by equivalent tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, will be replaced with “Cutgo”, which imposes that requirement only on spending. The new rules could actually weaken rather than strengthen, deficit reduction; so says none other than the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

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I’m a liberal. And I think, as does everyone who thinks about it for fifteen minutes, that the debt:GDP ratio needs to be stabilized over the long-term and that stabilizing it at a relatively low level would be better than stabilizing it at a high level. And I think the kind of people who give out “fiscy” awards don’t want liberals to immediately put their fingers in their ears when people start talking about deficit reduction. But it’s impossible for progressives to take the organized deficit reduction movement seriously under these circumstances.