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Posted at 8:00 PM ET, 01/24/2011

Paul Ryan is not what you think

By Matt Miller

Imagine that President Obama said Tuesday night that it was time to get America's fiscal house in order and then proposed a plan that would not balance the budget until the 2060s - while adding more than $62 trillion to the national debt between now and then. Can anyone imagine Republicans hailing Obama as a "visionary fiscal conservative"? The idea is absurd.

But Republicans do hail House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as a "visionary fiscal conservative," even though it is Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future" that I've described (using cautious assumptions) above. Now that Ryan, with his State of the Union response, is becoming his party's most visible spokesman on fiscal matters, it's vital to grasp how huge the gap is
between the rhetoric surrounding Ryan's plan and its reality.

Ryan's "Roadmap" (which includes a number of ideas I support, by the way) purports to address the fiscal challenges of our aging population while restoring a culture of self-reliance rather than dependency on government. Yet while liberals have been busy blasting Ryan's proposed trims to Social Security and Medicare, the bigger budget outcomes Ryan proposes have been
virtually ignored. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Ryan's plan would result in annual deficits of between 3.5 and 4.5 percent of GDP between now and somewhere after 2040, with a balanced budget coming only around 2063. This would add at least $62 trillion
to the national debt over the period. (My estimate is conservative mostly because the independent Tax Policy Center says Ryan's tax reforms would produce far less revenue than Ryan required the CBO to assume.)

Ryan doesn't dispute these basic facts (though I believe this is the first time his actual debt numbers have been called out). When I asked him at a recent National Press Club event how he could put out a plan that didn't balance the budget for decades and added trillions to the debt, and still call himself a "fiscal conservative," he offered an evasive digression on how this just shows how tough the demographic challenge is. But it really shows something different: that you can't double the number of seniors on Social Security and Medicare and keep taxes at their recent long-run average of 19 percent of GDP, as Ryan's plan would do. Even after assuming entitlement reforms that most Republicans think would be politically fatal, Ryan's red ink never stops flowing.

Understood properly, Ryan's debt-soaked "Roadmap" is not the threat liberals perceive but instead fresh proof of the inevitability of higher taxes as the boomers age. If Ryan publicly accepts this reality in his new leadership role, he'll hasten bipartisan progress toward budget fixes that blend long-term spending reductions with tax increases. If he denies it - well, then, sorry, Paul, you'll just have to live with being the $62 trillion man.

By Matt Miller  | January 24, 2011; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Miller  
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Comments


All of this cutting can be sidetracked just by asking the Republicans to PAY FOR THEIR BUSH WARS. We could really use that $5,000,000,000,000 right now.

Posted by: gkam | January 24, 2011 8:20 PM | Report abuse

"you can't double the number of seniors on Social Security and Medicare and keep taxes at their recent long-run average of 19 percent of GDP".

Taxes at 19% of GDP? Who pays so little? Everywhere I go, I'm taxed. I pay at least 30% of my income in taxes. Then what I have left over is taxed at every turn. Open your cable bill... 15+% in taxes. Phone bill... 12+% in taxes. Electric bill... 12+% in taxes. How about 6% sales tax on every thing that I buy, taxes on performance tickets, taxes on parking, layers of taxes on top of money that has already been taxed several times. Who the h-ll are you kidding about taxes? STOP MUGGING INNOCENT AMERICANS! The only ones who aren't paying taxes are corportations, the filthy rich liberal elites who run them, and politicians.

Posted by: freepost | January 24, 2011 8:56 PM | Report abuse

gkam, why do you call them "Bush wars"? Obama is running the wars now, understand? Why hasn't he pulled out in the last two years? Haha! He is even pushing the war into Pakistan. You haven't read about that, have you?
Iraq has cost about 2 trillion so far, and Afghanistan about 1 trillion. But even if one accepts your numbers, five trillion, its STILL LESS than amount of money given to the banks by the FED under President Obama (6 to 7 trillion so far, and counting). When will kool aid drinkers like yourself stop voting Demoblican and vote for Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich? Most Americans are independent now, not Dem or Rep. You need to grow up and pull the wool from over your eyes. Both parties are owned by the banks. By the way, Ron Paul and Ralph Nader are the ONLY Presidential candidates for 2012 that want to remove ALL of military from all over the world. We can't afford it anymore. Maybe money grows on trees in your world. Stop being a mouthpiece for corporate fascism ala the Demoblican/Republicrat money printing machine.

Posted by: shred11 | January 24, 2011 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Miller sez: "Lets all go bankrupt" !

Posted by: shred11 | January 24, 2011 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Paul Ryan MAY or MAY NOT be what we think. However, I'm sure YOU'RE not the guy to tell us about him...something about institutional bias comes to mind. Besides...weren't you one of the guys who told us how great the current President was? Didn't you crow about what you THOUGHT about him? Many of us KNEW what this President stood for...and we didn't want it. This President is exactly what I thought he was...a book smart but inexperienced leftie who never had to make a payroll, fire anybody, make something run or do anything that even hinted that he had the stones to be President of this great country. He's exactly what I thought he was...and look at the result. 2012 can't come fast enough. All Democrats out in 2012...all of them.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | January 24, 2011 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Time to update Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen's comment of a few decades ago, for inflation:

"A trillion here, a trillion there, and before long you're talking about real money."

Posted by: chuck8 | January 24, 2011 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Well Matt we could go over Obama's economic plan like you did Ryan's but hey wait a minute. Obama doesn't have one yet. My bad!

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | January 24, 2011 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Desertdiva1 | January 24, 2011 9:55 PM
"Well Matt we could go over Obama's economic plan like you did Ryan's but hey wait a minute. Obama doesn't have one yet. My bad!

Get over it will ya, Obama's black ... ain't going to change.

Posted by: knjincvc | January 24, 2011 10:09 PM | Report abuse

This progressive can give credit to Ryan for one policy and only one, his daily workout regimen. When his ideas do cut significant coin like his medicare vouchers capped at $9800, he kills grandma. Steele questioned by Spitzer on the budget policy paper coming from Ryan's house committee said that was only a preliminary not the real position which he said they will bring forth after the president presents his budget proposals to congress. I expect them to give lip service or cut safety nets long before reasonable policy like old man Bush that cut the budget and raised taxes (economic turnaround too late for his re-election) addressing voodoo economics.

Posted by: jameschirico | January 24, 2011 10:30 PM | Report abuse

Paul Ryan MAY or MAY NOT be what we think. However, I'm sure YOU'RE not the guy to tell us about him...something about institutional bias comes to mind. Besides...weren't you one of the guys who told us how great the current President was? Didn't you crow about what you THOUGHT about him? Many of us KNEW what this President stood for...and we didn't want it. This President is exactly what I thought he was...a book smart but inexperienced leftie who never had to make a payroll, fire anybody, make something run or do anything that even hinted that he had the stones to be President of this great country. He's exactly what I thought he was...and look at the result. 2012 can't come fast enough. All Democrats out in 2012...all of them.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly
=========================================
Sorry to tell you PanhandleWilly, but you're all hat. Looks to the sensible he did a fine job turning a chap. 10 GM into a profitable enterprise. Looks like a good CIC increasing drone attacks, refurbishing the armed forces for the war in Afghanistan and adding 30,000 troops turning a losing scenario around with mixed results mainly due to Karzai's ineptness (see Colin Powell's take). When Rahm, his economic team and WH speaker did poor jobs, they were replaced. His re-election will be secured when 840 billion spent increases jobs to the plus 150,000 considering a 700,000 loss turned to 100,000 plus with 700 billion in stimulus. His health care law is gaining traction as people benefiting like it, (small business credit 30-40%, pre-existing kids under 26 covered) while doomday predictions about Wall St. direction after passage could not be more wrong. That community organizer has done a decent job for all the inexperience.

Posted by: jameschirico | January 24, 2011 10:44 PM | Report abuse

This article only does one thing, and that is point to the insolvency of several government programs. As is typical of the Washington Post, it assumes that by virtue of existing a government program should be saved. As a young professional, I would rather that this program be phased out to all but the poorest of the poor. Either way I know I'm not getting a dime from the program, and I will likely be working the rest of my life.

Your article is no different than the stupid letters I get from the Social Security Administration. I think I am down to receiving 80% of my contributions when I retire, but wait! The program can be saved! All I have to do is contribute more on to of what I already put in to receive a fraction of that as well. How is this any different than a financial planner telling you he blew 20% of your portfolio on whatever he felt like, but if I give him 20% more I will be whole again. The whole concept is absurd.

I haven't studied Paul Ryan's road map well enough to make any educated comments on his plan, however, I do know that in general both parties solutions to the problem are bogus. One side wants to claim that tax cuts will boost revenue, while the other claims we should raise taxes to support programs that are largely insolvent and have huge amounts of waste and inefficiency. Reducing taxes may produce more growth, but it will likely require massive cuts in government. The other option may save the government programs, but it will probably drastically reduce the level of discretionary income individuals hold.

Social Security is a joke, primarily because it does not truly save anything or invest in the US to warrant a cash flow to a retiree. The money goes straight into the general fund, and how has that been working for us? Medicare is the same way, and in even worse shape. Now "Change we can believe in" is saying he will not push to raise the age for social security or cut benefits. He is about as progressive and brave as all the other spineless politicians current and past.

Posted by: jconboy0226 | January 24, 2011 11:10 PM | Report abuse

I hear many Dem's advocating higher taxes, but do any of them actually pay them? If those who support higher taxes would voluntarily pay more hits would help solve the deficit issue . . or is this another case of do what I say not what I do . ..

Posted by: sarno | January 24, 2011 11:12 PM | Report abuse

Oh, come on, Sarno! Anybody who comes up with "why don't you liberal elitists volunteer to pay more taxes" is just not thinking. The government isn't a charity -- it's a social contract. And paying taxes, more or less of them, isn't a choice, it's a responsibility to yourself, your fellow citizens (rich and poor alike), and your country.

The problem with conservative ideas like Ryan's is that they simply don't work. Americans don't want to lose the services government provides, from Head Start for toddlers to Medicare and SS for seniors, and everything in between. But too many Americans have been persuaded by conservatives that they can have these services without paying for them through sufficient taxation. Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter) will never be able to achieve fiscal balance or pay down the debt solely through spending cuts, because the people will never stand for it. Taxes must be raised, in a progressive fashion, in conjunction with smart spending cuts (and yes, that includes defense). It's that simple.

Posted by: jonfromcali | January 24, 2011 11:48 PM | Report abuse

The boomers need to finance themselves. The "me" generation needs to understand that when it comes to paying up, that they need to be all about "me" there too. I sure as hell don't owe them a thin nickel, and they better look to themselves first.

Posted by: Nymous | January 25, 2011 12:08 AM | Report abuse

Time to update Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen's comment of a few decades ago, for inflation:

"A trillion here, a trillion there, and before long you're talking about real money."

Posted by: chuck8 | January 25, 2011 12:25 AM | Report abuse

freepost - did you really say that the only people not paying taxes are the 'filthy rich LIBERAL elites who run them (corporations)?'

that was good - really good. actually hilarious. 'liberals' running corporate america.

are these the same liberals who run fox news? you're a joke buddy

Posted by: amilesp | January 25, 2011 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Right-wingers will have to be sneaky about cutting Social Security and Medicare. If people know it's happening, they'll throw them out of office. Unfortunately, too many are easily fooled, even those who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They need enlightening.

Posted by: Truthteller14 | January 25, 2011 12:48 AM | Report abuse

The disingenuous reporters at Wapo, Mr. Miller right there among them just keep repeating the same old lie either overtly or implied.

Paul Ryan is a liar. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Social Security (see Bob Herbert's column in the NY Times, Jan 25). Social Security does not need to be fixed.

Paul Ryan is also the source of the blatant lie that American corporations pay the highest taxes in the world. Hogwash. 68% of them don't even pay US taxes, including Exxon-Mobil and GE.

Paul Ryan also has the effrontery to pay his staff from public tax monies and demand that they read the Fascist, Ayn Rand as a condition of employment.

Paul Ryan is a flake and a narrow ideologue and this love affair WaPo is having with Mr. Ryan is ridiculous. Mr. Ryan reminds me of another Fascist Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy.

Posted by: flamingliberal | January 25, 2011 6:28 AM | Report abuse

The boomers need to finance themselves. The "me" generation needs to understand that when it comes to paying up, that they need to be all about "me" there too. I sure as hell don't owe them a thin nickel, and they better look to themselves first.

Posted by: Nymous | January 25, 2011 12:08 AM | Report abuse

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


They already did. The Greenspan Commission under Reagan established a trust fund for the boomers' retirement and Reagan gave the middle class, not the rich, just the middle class, the largest tax increase in their history to pay into the fund.

But....when it reached a trillion, Reagan raided it, George HW Bush spent the other trillion.

Posted by: flamingliberal | January 25, 2011 6:40 AM | Report abuse

I'll call it like I see it - Ryan is a fiscal fraud. Much in the same mold of the majority of republicans. They have repeatedly called for fiscal conservatism over the last 40 years, and have been the complete opposite.

What do you call an economic expert whose numbers just don't add up? A fraud.

Posted by: JilliB | January 25, 2011 6:52 AM | Report abuse

what did you expect from a guy with a ba in political science and no real life job experience -- higher math? ryan is a "young gun" pretty boy with zero substance. it don't add up, pretty boy.

Posted by: johndoe11111 | January 25, 2011 7:01 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Panhandle Willy ...2012 cannot come fast enough ....Obama is a one termer..he may have gotten a bump in the polls after his Arizona "pep-rally" but it wont last...He is too radical for most Americans and all he does is waste our money and send it overseas... The far left Democrats cannot brag about the stimulus money they wasted and now they will ask for more cash ?? No way !!!

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | January 25, 2011 7:11 AM | Report abuse

I scanned the CBO link the author provided. I couldn't find confirmation that the CBO said the debt would explode under Ryan's plan. Instead I found the following statement, which seems to contradict the author (the author needs to explain his claim that Ryan's plan would explode the debt):

CBO: "On balance, those changes would reduce federal budget deficits and the federal
debt."

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 25, 2011 7:12 AM | Report abuse

Hey, reality is...granny ain't gettin a caddy when she stops workin...a yugo will have to do...2 workers for every senior sucking on the Gov teet ain't gonna work old folks...when I start paying more than 50% in all taxes, my a__ is sitting on the couch and will join you collecting Uncle Sam (ie free Obama money)!!

Posted by: mjandrews8 | January 25, 2011 7:39 AM | Report abuse

If we could perform a miracle and have only "pure" legislation ("pure" defined as no input from any lobbyist and no influence by campaign contributions)we could be well on our way to solvency.

Posted by: nanonano1 | January 25, 2011 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Matt you didn't read all his separate plans
and actuary tables did you? Because he has had them on his website for at least 2 years.
And while the Presidents Administration and the Democratic party lied about Healthcare bill this guy answered honestly. No Why?
14 trillion debt
100 trillion unfunded liabilities
200 trillion if you add States.
There is no tax and no plan that will get us out of this.

Posted by: joeortega4 | January 25, 2011 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Where are the jobs that the republicans promised? What have they done to create jobs today????

Posted by: hockeymom1 | January 25, 2011 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Obviously, Republicans do not believe in true conservative fiscal policy. If they did, they wouldn't have cancelled out the projected budget surpluses (you remember, the ones Georgie Boy inherited from Clinton) with those huge tax cuts for the wealthy. They would have kept them and paid down the debt. You know, just like Suzzie Ormond tells all of us to do with our bills, double up on the payments. Oh now, that advice is only for us rubes so she can sell books! Idiots! The Democrats should have let the tax cuts all expire in December in stead of giving in to the Rethuglicans. I just can't wait to see how this crop of tea-party dolts deal with the reality of paying off the debt amassed under Bush-Chenney fighting two unpaid for wars, funding the Medicare drug plan, and bailing out Wall St. (yes, that happened on Dubya's watch).

Restore everything back to the fiscal 2001 levels, budgets, taxes, etc. We will all better off if we can simply erase the two Bush-Cheney administrations and the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. Power corrupts, abosolute power corrupts absolutely!

Posted by: old_sarge | January 25, 2011 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Sarge, you sure got that right! Nothing is more telling than the Cheney statement to Paul O'Neill: "deficits don't matter... this is our due."

Posted by: ChuckinMtP | January 25, 2011 9:01 AM | Report abuse

It goes back to William F. Buckley and those guys.

Starting in the late 1950s and certainly in the 1960s, there rose the idea of the 'conservative intellectual.' The Right thought they would outdo the Left in ideas. They needed eggheads, lots of them.

Now its been 50 or years these people have been on their own, and moss grows fat on a rolling stone.

That is more than a metaphor -- Conservative 'thought' is a clanging, cartilaginous cacophony of pseudoscience, fallacy and fantasy.

Buckley and his students have filled libraries with nonsensical gobbledygook that's fun to read but is worthless when it comes to running a modern country, state, county, city, town or outhouse.

It usually 'works' like this -- Take a perfectly valid new idea, say, that the relationship between taxation and revenue is not linear -- that, under a circumstance where too much tax is being collected, it could be possible see revenues rise if tax rates were actually reduced.

Now, they take that perfectly interesting idea and boil it down to dogmatic, simplistic nonsense -- "Reducing tax rates increases revenues."

They turn an idea into an idolatry. And a particularly false one at that, in the given example.

Reducing taxes when tax rates are too low yields lower revenues. It doesn't always work. It's not the simple. It requires some grasp of nuance. It requires an accurate assessment of what is going on in the real world right now.

Conservatives, particularly conservative intellectuals (or those who pretend towards intellectualism), are ill suited for this because they proudly refuse to see the world as it is. They dream while they are awake, and they hold on, like Linus to his security blanket, to ideas that cannot possible be true.

And they must, because the righteous actions they fervently believe in, which are disconnected from reality and which work the opposite of the way they think they do, actually cause real and lasting harm to the people they claim to represent and institutions they claim to love.

In reality, all this pseudointellectual gobbledygook from the right is designed to release endorphins into the pleasure center of the brain to overcome the pangs of guilt, to make it OK for a otherwise decent person to act indecently toward fellow human beings and be able to claim afterword that it was for a good, noble cause.

Mr. Ryan is in earnest, deluded, but in earnest, ordering that we start throwing people out of the lifeboat lest we all drown.

But we are not in a lifeboat. There is no reason to panic. And there are time-tested ways to get out of the problem that don't mean consigning whole groups of the elderly, young, poor, undereducated, left behind and unwanted to poverty and an early death.

Fear, masked by pseudointellectualism is what has produced this modern American 'conservative.'

You can tell by the fault that plagues all of them -- They are unable to honestly admit and analyze the obvious weaknesses in their plans.

Posted by: 1EgoNemo | January 25, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Quoting the CBO is so over. We are on to the misinformation that the CBO gives out not on purpose mind you but because it's garbage in and garbage out. Attacking Ryan is so in. Anyone who stands up to the fictions piled on us by this administration and the President himself will be attacked in this way. They will be made to look like haters of motherhood and apple pie. Miller, you are being used. They, the Obama minions, have messed up your thinking.

Posted by: mlbduffy | January 25, 2011 9:30 AM | Report abuse

But let's do spend a couple of minutes with Congressman Ryan's Social Security proposal for private accounts because it has three fatal flaws:

1. The transition cost to establish the private accounts while continuing to pay benefits to current and future retirees will be in the trillions of dollars, which will need to be borrowed from China. It is a near term budget buster.

2. The proposal calls for government run investment funds. Government bureaucrats will decide which private companies receive debt and equity financing. In other words, the government would pick the winners and losers among private companies to a great extent. Hooray for SOCIALISM!!!

3. Because the government would guarantee the principal and a minimum return in the accounts, people would be motivated to take excessive risk as there would be no downside to them. Kind of like with Savings & Loans in the 1980's and mortgages last decade. Except this time the magnitude of the accounts being guaranteed would be too great for the US to be able to afford the guarantees when we have the next major market downturn. The US government would be bankrupt. The financial crisis of 2007-2009 with its loss of only 8.4 million private sector jobs would be remembered as the good old days.

Posted by: stichmo | January 25, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Paul Ryan is exactly what I think he is----a far right extremist hell bent on destroying Social Security and Medicare and putting seniors, orphans, widows and the disabled under bridges begging for food and health care.

Posted by: timothyhogan | January 25, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I have to assume that congressional leaders, and most readers of the WP columns, have a basic understanding of arithmetic----not advanced math, just elementary school arithmetic. Wisconsin congressional Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican economic "guru", suggests that we cut the debt through deficit reduction of 60 to 100 billion dollars per year. To think that decreasing spending by 100 billion dollars for each coming year will make a dent in the debt is insane. Using figures for the 2010 budget, consider the following:
Revenue 2.381 Trillion
Spending 3.552Trillion
2010 Deficit 1.171 Trillion
If 100 billion had been trimmed from the 2010 budget, it would still have left A DEFICIT OF 1.11 TRILLION (eleven times the proposed 100 billion cut in spending), which would have to be ADDED TO THE DEBT. The same additions will be added each year until the budget is ACTUALLY BALANCED !!

Posted by: merhoff | January 25, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Virtually every responsible economist (including conservative ones) asserts that we must cut spending AND raise taxes--neither option BY ITSELF will work. Think that sucks? I sure do (I mean, who doesn't hate paying more in taxes and getting less in benefits???), but I also think it's correct. There WILL have to be entitlement "reform" (that means CUTBACKS, folks) as well as a return to rational taxation rates (hell, let's just return them to what they were under REAGAN!).

Time to be adults. Bummer. But if we don't start being adults, what we'll face later will make what we face now seem like a picnic.

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | January 25, 2011 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Ryan did not even mention SS in his rebuttal last night. Considering SS reform is a big part of his plan, that means Ryan is indeed not who you think he is. He is engaging in big lies and not telling the truth about what his plan does. I don't know if his plans lead to more or less debt, but they clearly make significant inroads to cutting SS and medicare, and most Americans won't like it when they find out.

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 26, 2011 7:10 AM | Report abuse

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