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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press James B. Stewart Declares Himself Clueless About the Ryan Budget

James B. Stewart Declares Himself Clueless About the Ryan Budget

Sunday, 08 April 2012 16:20

I met Paul Ryan when I debated him over President Bush's Social Security privatization plan back in 2005. He seemed like a nice, reasonably intelligent guy.

However this has nothing to do with the time of day when we are talking about his budget, the budget that NYT columnist James B. Stewart assured us is a good starting point in his column on Saturday. What Stewart tells us is reasonable is that the budget calls for cuts in entitlements and tax reform. He then asks who could disagree with this.

One has to wonder whether Stewart has looked at the Ryan budget. First, on taxes the only specifics are cuts in the tax rates paid by rich people and corporations. None of the offsetting tax increases are specified.

If this sounds like a sensible opening gambit, let's imagine the equivalent on the opposite side. Suppose that we proposed to increase Social Security benefits for the bottom two income quintiles of retirees. Suppose that we also proposed increased spending on infrastructure, research and development, and education.

Suppose the left-wing Ryan budget wrote down that these spending increases would be offset by unspecified reductions in government waste. We then told CBO to score it accordingly. Is this a good starting point for further discussion?

In terms of the other parts, if Stewart read the CBO analysis of Ryan's proposal from last year he would find that his "reform" hugely increases the cost of providing health care to seniors. The point of Medicare was to make health care affordable to workers in their old age. Of course we can save money by reducing what the government pays, but the point is to do so in a way that still leaves retirees able to pay for care. Ryan's plan is a huge step in the opposite direction according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Ryan plan also hugely cuts non-entitlement spending. By 2050 it essentially eliminates all spending on items other than Social Security, health care and defense. By the end of the 10-year budget horizon most of the areas that we think of as the domain of the federal government (e.g. federal highways and airports, federal courts and law enforcement, drug research and safety, the State Department and Justice Department) will be cut by around 50 percent under the Ryan plan. How could Stewart have missed this?

Stewart has one other egregious error in this column. He refers to the Bowles-Simpson Commission report. Sorry folks, there was no commission report. According to the commission's by-laws a report required the support of 14 of the 18 commission members. The report being touted as a report of the commission only had the support of 11 commissioners. Arithmetic lesson for policy pundits number 28,742: 11 is less than 14.

The Ryan budget is proving to be a wonderful Rorschach test. We have people who want to be part of the inside Washington conversation who praise the budget's courage and integrity. Then we have people who believe in arithmetic who call it what it is: a piece of trash.

By the way, Paul Ryan is a very nice guy.

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by JSeydl, April 08, 2012 5:51
The Ryan plan really is a piece of trash. If we take Ryan's cuts to non-entitlement spending and assume that defense spending holds at 3% of GDP -- which is a reasonable level, considering that defense spending has never been below 3% of GDP in the post-WWII era -- then this is the story we get for non-entitlement spending:

This is why Dean isn't just making things up when he says that the Ryan plan would shrink the federal government to nothing. It really would, and Ryan and all of his libertarian buddies should just admit to this fact.
Funny man...
written by David, April 08, 2012 9:56
It gave me a good laugh to see Stewart support Ryan AND Bowles-Simpson's solution, the latter which never got voted on because Ryan wouldn't ever ever support the proposal.
written by Chris, April 09, 2012 10:09
What amazes me is that the NYT and the WaPost, that I presume are papers zealous re their reputation, don't seem bother by having ignorant columnists write for them. These people are not merely people with right wing viewpoints, they are people who don't know what they are talking about. Yet the papers seem very comfortable with them. Brooks is another case in point.
Anybody that wants to do to the poor and middle class what he proposes is NOT a nice guy.
written by jumpinjezebel, April 09, 2012 12:15
So was Hitler in private
written by kharris, April 09, 2012 1:24
It's one thing when Samuelson the Lesser is unable to understand what is in front of him, so just falls back on his own prejudices. It is a similar thing when "geo-stationary orbit" Brooks pretends to understand what he's talking about and ends up in a reactionary spin-cycle. It is another thing entirely that Stewart joins Krugman's gullible center. Here are a few bits from the NYT bio on Stewart:

- shared the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting in 1988

- professor of business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

- author of ...“Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America”

It seems that Krugman has - once again - been too nice. Can we really assume, given Stewart's credentials, that he got it wrong because he's gullible? Isn't it more plausible that he has simply figured out who butters his bread and has decided to comfort the comfortable?
written by Procopius, April 10, 2012 8:10
This column gives me severe cognitive dissonance. It's like the remarks that George Bundy, the serial murder/rapist/sadist, is very charming in person. I presume Mr. Ryan loves his family, and maybe even has a dog he loves, but he is still a zombie-eyed granny-starver. The simple fact is his policy proposals, which he seems to genuinely believe in, would cause the painful deaths of thousands of people, and surely he must know this. Furthermore his policies would hugely increase the budget deficit, and I feel he must know this, too, although I suppose you could make a case that he just isn't smart enough to understand the consequences of his own proposals. I have heard that he is, in fact, one of the smartest guys in Congress. I do not know what motivates him, but I cannot believe his motives are good.
nice guy--be more specific
written by jonny salmon, April 10, 2012 12:27
affable skilled conversationalist maybe, but a guy who is smart and proposes such a budget to make my old age miserable and screw up things for my children is not nice.
50 Small Kingdoms?
written by Beth in OR, April 11, 2012 2:32
I'm not seeing much need for a standing military or a Congress in Ryan's Plan.

Is this the design for 50 little nation states run by friends and family of the Chosen Ones?

Isn't there some point at which partisan dissolution of the Constitutionally created Federal Government becomes illegal?

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.