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Profile in "courage"

What does courage look like in an elected official? A couple things come to mind:

  • Honesty: speaking the truth even when it's unpleasant or inconvenient
  • Principled confrontation: refusing to shrink from a serious and forthright debate when the real-world stakes are high
  • Moral clarity: risking re-election and advancement in favor of doing what's right

Pundits have been praising Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House budget committee, for the courage displayed in his 2012 budget proposal. But their definition of "courage" must be different from mine:

  • Ryan's budget rhetoric is misleading. He would privatize Medicare and convert Medicaid to a block grant, a lump sum of federal money given to the states to administer. But he would also make cuts to both programs--and as Ezra Klein explains, it's the cuts, not the reforms, that would save money. Yet Ryan suggests otherwise. After all, privatization and state control perform far better in polls than reduced health coverage for poor people and retirees.
  • His math is fuzzy. It relies on some implausible optimism about the plan's effects over time. For example, even if you believe that lower tax rates for rich people and corporations will somehow lead to more revenue, it's absurd to expect this to add up to $100 billion in the first year. But that's what Ryan's budget assumes, based on a combination of faith in business and unspecified savings from reducing tax breaks. The Congressional Budget Office--the nonpartisan budget umpire--doesn't share all of Ryan's number-crunching optimism.
  • Ryan also offers few details as to how a lot of what he proposes would be accomplished. The plan may be confrontational, but it isn't serious policy. It's an ideological broadside--in Ryan's own words, "it's a cause."
  • I don't think Ryan's risking much here, though his party might be. His budget won't become law in its current form, but that was a foregone conclusion. His congressional district (in which I grew up) is unlikely to punish him for this, and his alleged courage will only cement his status as a rising star.

I think Ryan's plan is immoral. I imagine he sees things differently. But even assuming he believes his plan is the right and just thing to do, where's the courage in framing it in such misleading ways?

If Ryan believes seniors should have to pay more for their health care, he should say so. If he believes that spending cuts ought to primarily target programs that help low-income people, he should explain why. In a time of staggering inequality and rising deficits, if Ryan thinks rich folks are due for a major tax cut, he ought to make this case directly--and without the fuzzy math.

Until he does, people should stop saying his budget plan is courageous. It's certainly aggressive, but that's not the same thing--and the fact that pundits blur the two speaks of deep problems in our public life.

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Comments

Bill Baar

I find the "immorality" in casting a debate on constraints into a binary choice between the moral and immoral. That sort of absolutism you've imposed on the difficulties of our very grey and clouded political choices serves no one well. Especially a diservice to anyone's faith.

Its pretty tough to cut defense spending

with a cowboy President starting new wars for (European) oil and continuing others.

Have you seen the latest death counts?

Not in my name.

Profiles in Courage - Paul Ryan

"After all, privatization and state control perform far better in polls than reduced health coverage for poor people and retirees."
In light of this, isn't it politically courageous to propose cuts in Medicare/Medicaid? Clearly, retirees are a strong voting bloc with long memories - at least collectively. Messing with their entitlements can be fatal at the ballot box. And exactly how would you have him address the deficit without shrinking government?

>Isn't it politically

>Isn't it politically courageous to propose cuts in Medicare/Medicaid?

My point, as I said above, is that there's no courage in talking up the reduced federal control as if that's what's saving the money, while glossing over the program cuts, which is what actually is. It's a bait and switch.

>And exactly how would you have him address the deficit without shrinking government?

There are actually two ways to reduce the deficit: cut spending and increase revenue. I'd like us to do both, and to spread the cuts around the budget in a way that focuses on protecting the fragile economic recovery and protecting vulnerable people. Ryan's plan will DECREASE revenue and focus spending cuts on programs that help vulnerable people. It's not an anti-deficit plan; it's an anti-(some parts of) government plan.

Ryan is leading, Obama and Dems are not

I think you are throwing around the term "immoral" a little too casually. If Medicare/Medicaid go into default and NO ONE gets benefits, how immoral would that be? Were you as outraged when the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care reform measures cut over 500 billion from Medicare?

Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security, plus interest on the debt, take up HALF the budget. We will not do anything about the IMMORAL act of leaving untold debt to future generations if we do not have entitlement reform. Simply taxing the rich will not solve the problem because, if the rich deem the taxes too high, they will simply move themselves and their job-producing capital to another country. That will only worsen the problem.

You cannot say that Ryan's plan will reduce revenue unless you can predict the future. We can look at the past and see that lowering marginal tax rates has produced greater revenues due to the spurring of business activity.

I supported the health-care

I supported the health-care reform bill, because it addressed both cost controls and coverage. You're right that we have to do something about M/M/SS costs, but that doesn't automatically mean "entitlement reform" the way conservatives like Ryan tend to define it. The biggest issue is health-care costs generally, and the reform bill is a huge step in addressing that. So when people like Ryan say they want to control costs in these areas while also repealing this (deficit-negative) bill, they don't have much credibility.

>You cannot say that Ryan's plan will reduce revenue unless you can predict the future. We can look at the past and see that lowering marginal tax rates has produced greater revenues due to the spurring of business activity.

I'm familiar with this supply-side argument but not with much evidence that it's true. Do you have any to offer? On the surface, it's awfully counterintuitive to say the government will get more money by asking for less of it. The burden of proof is on those who think this will work, and for years they're struggled to come up with the evidence.

Health care bill is NOT budget neutral

When the costs of implementation of the bill as well as the costs of the doctor fix are factored in (which they weren't in the CBO scoring (keep in mind the CBO can only score what it's given, just like a calculator can only add and subtract the numbers punched into it) the Obama health care bill bleeds red all over. It's a sham. 16 million more covered via Medicaid?? Try finding a doctor who takes Medicaid now...you'll be looking a long time. Maybe the motives were good, but the plan will not work, and it may be unconstitutional. Clearly the status quo is not sustainable, but you don't fix a bad situation by making it worse.

Steve, you're young. You'll work your way out of naivete if you view these matters objectively and don't buy the rhetoric of the left...or the right, for that matter. Investigate these things for yourself and don't buy the stuff you're given even if it's emotionally fulfilling. Verify. When Reagan cut marginal rates in the early 80's revenue to the government increased. The debt increased because Congress could not control spending, not because revenues were not adequate.

Its a bit ironic

to dismiss the courage involved in Paul Ryans plan while attacking him for being immoral and misleading.

Certainly, he could keep his mouth shut and not open himself to the scrutiny and misleading attacks being thrown at him from the left.

It would be truly courageous for a liberal Democrat like Obama or Reid to actually run for political office on what they believe instead of disguising themselves with conservative rhetoric.

>he could keep his mouth shut

>he could keep his mouth shut and not open himself to the scrutiny and misleading attacks being thrown at him from the left.

It may be that others have attacked Ryan personally. But assuming you're referring to criticism of his proposal such as mine above, I'd be interested to hear what about it you think is misleading.

politifact for one

found moveon.org's claims regarding Ryans plan to be false.

President Obama actually spent much time attacking Ryan with similar over the top rhetoric to your own in his 2012 presidential campaign speech yesterday.

Links aren't working in the comments:
"www.nationalreview.com/articles/264675/paul-ryan-vs-mythmakers-ramesh-ponnuru"

When George Soros sends his monthly support check to keep the Christian Century operational, does he specify which websites the people there are allowed to read?

Immoral

Steve Thorngate,
If its considered immoral to cut services for the poor and taxes for the rich, would you also consider it immoral for those rich people to not donate more money to the Federal government?

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