August, 30th 2012

Avik Roy gets conclusions about Ryan speech "oopses" mostly right

– Liz Mair

This morning, in the wake of what I gather was a very solid convention speech by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (full disclosure: I missed it, due to an early night in advance of hubby sitting a professional exam at stupid o'clock this morning), liberals (and some non-liberals, including my friend Dave Weigel) are highlighting Ryan "hypocrisy" or "fibbing" (or "misleading," or whatever you want to call it) in his remarks.

I'll watch the full speech later, but based on the excerpts I've read, I have to say that I tend to agree with most of Avik Roy's conclusions on the matter, most of which weigh in Ryan's favor and against his critics. [intro]

On the charge that Ryan attacked Obamacare's Medicare cuts despite the fact that the Ryan plan would preserve those cuts (hypocrite!), Roy notes that:

Ryan’s budgets in 2011 and 2012 preserved Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare. However, there is a huge difference between cutting Medicare by $716 billion to fund $1.9 trillion in new health spending, as Obamacare did, and cutting Medicare by $716 billion to shore up the solvency of the Medicare program itself, as the Ryan budget sought to do.

Secondly, the Romney Medicare plan fully repeals Obamacare, including the $716 billion in Medicare cuts.

Correct. I'm for repealing Obamacare, but like Ryan, I too support the $716 billion Medicare cuts (which Obama supporters insist on calling "savings," a term that doesn't sound as mean and nasty as "cuts"). I would actually go further, but that's neither here nor there.

It's annoying and irksome to me that Romney, who campaigns on bringing down the deficit and national debt, basically is campaigning on repealing Obamacare and-- from his rhetoric, we can also conclude-- not reinstating these or other cuts to a program that is currently paying out several times more the amount in benefits that was paid in by beneficiaries (not sustainable).

But that doesn't change the fact that what Ryan said was fair. Ryan was not for $716 billion in cuts in exchange for a very pricey, new entitlement-- and Romney isn't for Medicare cuts in any fashion, so far as I can tell. Ryan is on his ticket, not the other way round (much as I would wish it so).

On the charge that Ryan dissed Obama over not pursuing Simpson-Bowles even though Ryan voted against the plan (again, hypocrite!), again I tend to agree with Roy when he says:

It’s true that Paul Ryan voted against the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. He did so because Simpson-Bowles raised taxes while doing little to nothing about health-care spending, the biggest driver of growing deficits.

It's also true that, as Roy notes, Ryan didn't just vote against Simpson-Bowles and then go for a proverbial nap. He kept on proposing various plans that would deal with the health care spending point which is indeed a grave cause for concern from a fiscal (and, frankly, a personal finance) standpoint. The proof of this is in Democratic attacks on Ryan, which are focused on him being so committed to moves that would reform entitlements, not on him being a lazy so-and-so who's all talk and no action. It's also true that Erskine Bowles, the Democratic half of Simpson-Bowles, has had a lot good to say about Paul Ryan and his math, so there's that, too (Roy has video you may wish to watch).

On the charge that Ryan bashed Obama for the US' credit rating downgrade, but Ryan himself bears responsibility for that downgrade (misleading!), Roy is again right (though this doesn't exactly amount to him awarding Ryan a gold star).

I suppose it’s true that you can blame Ryan and the rest of the GOP for opposing trillions in tax increases, but it’s conversely true that you can blame Democrats for opposing spending cuts. At the end of the day, the question is who has been more constructive on the question of improving our long-term fiscal situation.

Ryan is correct that Obama has presided over this historic downgrade, but Republicans deserve a meaningful proportion of the blame for the fiscal situation that Obama inherited and then made worse.

Yep. If we go back to S&P's original statement explaining its decision to downgrade, we see that it says this:

We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the  growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade. 

Our lowering of the rating was prompted by our view on the rising public debt burden and our perception of greater policymaking uncertainty, consistent with our criteria...

This is S&P essentially saying the downgrade occurred because of four things:

1) It wasn't clear until the last possible minute that the debt ceiling would definitely be raised (OK, blame the Tea Party on this one, though I'd also note Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling as a senator and if we give him a pass on that, he ONLY gets a pass because his position was so minority then as to not matter-- so he was fringe AND irrelevant);

2) Washington-- constituted by two relatively intransigent political parties-- can't and won't get its shit together to a) cut spending-- and especially entitlements and/or b) raise revenue at an adequate level for S&P's tastes (Democrats and Republicans get equal blame here, as Democrats won't accept significant cuts to entitlement spending, which S&P calls out by name, and many Republicans won't accept any tax increases);

3) The deal cut in order to allow the debt ceiling to be raised sucked and didn't do enough (again, both parties get blame here); and

4) Our debt burden is getting too big and setting aside that Democrats and Republicans in Washington haven't been able to get their shit together to deal with it, S&P thinks they won't, in the near future, get their shit together, either (again, both parties get blame here).

So yeah... the downgrade occurred on Obama's watch, and neither party wanted to make specific sacrifices that would have run contrary to their ideology to avoid it. But Ryan was absolutely not opposed to raising the debt ceiling (he voted and advocated for the ultimate deal). Also, as Roy points out earlier in his piece, it's not like Ryan hasn't put forward meaningful proposals to reform entitlements, which are a massive driver of our debt (and again, which S&P specifically namechecks). So I'm inclined to give Ryan personally a pass on this, more or less-- though I do agree that Republicans, in general, shouldn't get one (and Democrats shouldn't, either).

Where I disagree with Roy-- or at least fail to reach the same conclusion as him-- is that unlike Paul Ryan and Ron Paul, two political figures I have tended to be quite favorable to, I'm not competely sold on the idea that once spending has been approved, it's an elected official's obligation to go get his or her state or district's share of the cash (though of course, this may also depend a bit on the nature of the objection to the spending in the first place).

If one objects on the grounds of "we don't have the money to pay for this," well, fine. But once the spending is on the books and the money has been borrowed, the spending and borrowing is on the books, and if you think any of that spending-- badly-financed though it may be-- can have a beneficial effect, then I guess there's an argument for going and getting your share.

However, if you think the spending itself is wrongheaded and won't achieve anything, even in the short-term, you shouldn't take the cash, in my view.

Put another way, if you believe in the concept of stimulus, but just don't like the way it's financed (or not), go on, take the money and run; if, however, if you don't believe in the concept of stimulus and see no end result beyond a very, very minimal short-term sugar high (or no sugar high at all), then go on now go, walk out the door. Typically, I have tended to see Ryan as falling into the latter of these two camps, and I tend to be inclined to give him a pass given his effort to reform entitlements, which are not one-off spending items but rather ongoing, long-term, massive drivers of debt. But I'll grant that going after stimulus money isn't the aspect of his record that gets me really excited about voting for him.

Finally, there has been criticism of Ryan over the matter of the closure of a Janesville, Wisconisn, GM plant.

The specifics of the charge Ryan made against Obama strike me as offering something less than a perfectly clean hit, but for me, that's also a bit beside the point. I'd really like to see Romney (and to a lesser extent, Ryan) stop talking about matters touching on the auto bailout, and this seems a further reminder of that fact.

Romney has repeatedly gone back to this trough, I suspect because the matter of GM and Chrysler's troubles both seems a perfect thing for a turnaround guy to comment on, and because Romney's Dad was an auto industry executive (so, just as I occasionally feel I MUST comment on art and art history matters, even though I'm not super-expert on either topic, Romney perhaps feels he must talk about "car stuff").

However, almost no one I know can figure out where Romney stands on the auto bailout because his message appears to be "the auto bailout was bad and GM and Chrysler should have been allowed to go bankrupt but yay me because Obama did what I advised and now look" (what???). Not surprisingly, Democrats really, really enjoy it when he goes there.

For his part, Ryan voted for an auto bailout, which given the composition of his district absolutely made sense, but isn't exactly something that's going to get the conservative base jumping up and down with joy (plus, again, how does it fit with what most people hear, or think they hear, Romney saying?).

So, on balance, I agree with Roy's conclusions, which are by and large favorable to Ryan. But I'm not sure I would have handled the stimulus matter as Ryan did, and I'd like a rhetorical shift away from the car talk.



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