Column: Paul Ryan and the fraudulence of Republican budgeting

We are all peeved by different things. For some of us, it’s that TA who can’t speak English. For others, it’s the sight of freshmen discovering our coveted library spots. For me, it’s political fraud and media malfeasance. I don’t mean those who hold opinions contrary to my own. I’m talking about the people who engage in lazy mendacity and the journalists who let them get away with it.

So imagine my rage as I bear witness to the political ascendency of Paul Ryan. By all popular accounts, the congressman from Wisconsin is a "wonk." A principled budget cutter. A man who isn’t afraid to get in the weeds. When he released his “Path to Prosperity” budget in May, it was endorsed by every Republican presidential candidate as the “serious” alternative to Obama’s overspending. With his hands grasped tightly on the steering wheel of the conservative domestic policy agenda, he was chosen last week as the Republican vice-presidential candidate.

Absolute control over one party’s fiscal policy would, you might think, beget a basic ability to assemble a budget. You would be mistaken. Allow me to cherry-pick a few of his numbers — not to paint a false picture, but to give you a taste of just how serious his thinking is.

Ryan proposes to reduce all discretionary government spending to 3.75 percent of GDP, down from 9.1 percent in 2011. That’s all government spending save Medicare, Social Security and the interest on our debt. Ryan, in the same document, has vowed to maintain current military spending levels at 4 percent of GDP. If it sounds impossible to cut discretionary spending to less than 3.75 percent of GDP while maintaining defense spending at more than 4 percent of GDP, congratulations - you’re a more honest wonk than Ryan. If that sounds like sensible policy, well, you might be a Republican.

This is not me nitpicking some one-off line in a speech he gave in a barn in northern Wisconsin. This is his official budget as chairman of the House Budget Committee. The spending estimates are on page 63 of his budget proposal, and the military vow is on page 28. Such an absolute and obvious impossibility in Ryan’s budget belies the seriousness of his vision. This is what passes for policy expertise in Paul Ryan's fantasyland.

But why should Ryan care that his budget makes no sense? It did all it was meant to do: establish his credentials as a “serious” budget cutter. His budget garnered him a “Fiscy” award by the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget for “notable fiscal leadership in fiscal year 2010.”

The truth is that Paul Ryan’s record shows a remarkable willingness to explode government spending. In 2001 and 2003, he voted for tax cuts that added $1.6 trillion to our debt. He has repeatedly authorized appropriations for foreign wars, to the tune of at least $1.216 trillion. Paul Ryan voted for the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003. $534 billion. In 2005, he proposed a Social Security reform bill with an estimated cost of $2.4 trillion over 10 years. A Bush administration deputy deemed it “irresponsible.” Pot, meet kettle.

Whether the policies above are good or bad is not the issue. His votes expose a fundamental truth: Paul Ryan does not care about cutting spending. Paul Ryan does not care about making serious budget proposals. Paul Ryan cares about capturing the anti-spending zeitgeist of the current Republican Party and riding it to the top. Paul Ryan cares about destroying programs he does not like and protecting the ones he does. His budget and his voting record are evidence enough of his fraud. His acceptance as an “expert” and “fiscal hawk” within and outside the GOP are evidence of the media’s failure to report the most basic facts. Next time I hear Paul Ryan deified, I might get a little angry. Maybe you should too.

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