The Inconvenience of Details

So I know I talked a little bit about Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget last week, but if you’ll indulge me, I would like to pick on him one more time. It’s not that I want to make the guy a constant target. But when your ideas are targeted towards a political party that believes protecting individual liberty and outlawing certain types of marriage are two sides of the same coin, things tend to get a little nutty.

In addition to the cuts he proposed, his budget also promises “Pro-Growth Tax Reform.” Now, there’s nothing inherently crazy about tax reform; in fact his budget lays out a number of problems with the current tax code that are considered conventional wisdom for both parties. What Ryan wants to do is lower income tax rates and the amount of income tax brackets, while eliminating loop-holes and deductions to make up for the money lost by lowering rates. Ryan laid out a few specifics, most notably that income taxes will be 10% and 25%.

The budget is less clear on which loop-holes will be closed and which deductions will be phased out. This is where things get ugly. People like their loop-holes and deductions. Homeowners, homebuilders, bankers and realtors all benefit from home mortgage tax deductions. Denying a deduction for child dependents can be labeled as anti-family and closing loopholes for oil and energy companies will be blamed for seasonal increases in gas and electricity prices. Which is why Ryan didn’t single any out for cuts. Which is a problem, because he needs to find somewhere in the neighborhood of $4-6 trillion to keep revenue from dropping.

Republicans claim to have these great plans, but the details seem to derail them. Mitt Romney went so far as to say he wouldn’t name programs he would cut. But vote for him anyway, because he won’t cut anything you like, just things other people like. My well-honed political brain is telling me that there is an opening for a Republican candidate who isn’t afraid of getting into the nitty-gritty. Rick Santorum can’t fill that hole. Everyone says the devil is in the details, so he won’t get near those. Maybe Newt Gingrich could step in though. He loves to talk and reciting statistics and obscure programs would be one way for him to hear his own voice. Gingrich: He’s not afraid of the miNEWTia. That’s a pretty good slogan, if you like puns. And if there’s one thing America loves, it’s puns. Not details.

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The Everything Must Go Approach of Mr. Ryan’s Budget

Before this week’s Supreme Court Case on the constitutionality of health care reform, which I will be discussing at some point (heads up!), the big hullaballoo in Washington DC was the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan. Sounds like typical Washington insiders overreacting, right? I mean, come on, the guy isn’t even a Senator! But, Mr. Ryan is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a conservative darling and so we must pay attention to what he says. This and the fact that our bothersome old constitution requires that budgets come out of the House before being considered by the Senate means that Mr. Ryan’s budget means business.

So, what does the budget entail? Cuts. More cuts. Then another cut. There are tax cuts and cuts to transportation funding. Medicare gets cut, as does its shy, but lovely cousin Medicaid. Defense spending actually gets increased and money for veterans would be ok. But other than that, more cuts than batting practice in a thorn-bush. That isn’t the best metaphor in the world, but I’m going to stick by it because it involves a whole heck of a lot of cuts.

When we get down to the details, the programs people actually know, things get pretty ugly for Mr. Paul Ryan’s budget. Ugly in a large groups of citizens with pitchforks and torches kind of way. To keep the budget balanced, everything besides defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security would have to go. Not that two out of the four of those don’t get cut, just that they survive, at least in name. National parks though? No money for them. The litter in the Grand Canyon is just going to have to take care of itself for a while. Food and water safety would be gone, so I hope you like lead in your tap water. I hear it adds a certain sweetness that is actually quite pleasant. See, there’s always a bright side. Federal education funding would dry up, along with money for highways. I don’t even have to write a joke for those ones, because it’s just plain hilarious. The cherry-on-top has to be that federal law enforcement would be forced to cease. Border Patrol: Gone! Secret Service: Vanished! FBI: No more!

I have to give Mr. Ryan credit though. This is a budget. It is a plan for taking in revenue and spending it, which is certainly what he was going for. That much is uncontroversial. So good job Paulie boy! There’s at least one thing we can agree on!