A Frightful “Vision Thing”

For years, the response to conservatives demanding huge but undefined federal budget cuts, or grandstanding on miniscule expenditures like public broadcasting, has been pretty simple: what would you actually cut to keep these promises? Republicans had control of Congress for many years prior to the Democratic majority that took power in 2006, but rhetoric notwithstanding, no comprehensive plan to meaningfully reduce government spending ever emerged.

Indeed, the period of one-party rule in Washington, DC under a Republican Congress and President George W. Bush was a model of fiscal irresponsibility–when historic tax cuts and huge new government entitlements such as Medicare Part D both passed.

The reason was simple: in order to carry out the rhetorical fullness of their successful election platform, they would have to make cuts that would horrify the public, and prove devastating to the Republican Party politically. As a result, the party of fiscal responsibility became the opposite, as they sought to please everyone by cutting taxes and growing entitlement spending.

This is, at least in the mind of its lay members, a reason the “Tea Party” came into existence: a demand by “ordinary” Americans for the decades of promises by Republicans for a “smaller government” to be fulfilled. And as the Washington Post reports today, the new congressional majority elected by the “Tea Party” in 2010 has made good on that pledge.

Which will now horrify the public.

House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious and politically perilous plan to resize the federal government and stem the $14 trillion national debt by slashing spending on domestic programs and fundamentally overhauling government health programs for the elderly and the poor…

The proposal urges a sweeping transformation of federal health programs that would wipe out funding for Obama’s health-care initiative and end Medicare as an open-ended entitlement. Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly, would be replaced for those under age 55 with a system of premium supports to buy insurance policies in the private market. The plan would not restore cuts to Medicare made under Obama’s health- care legislation, though it would eliminate a special board established to restrain the program’s future growth.

Medicaid, the health program for the poor, would come in for sharper cuts, totaling $771 billion over the next decade. The GOP plan would roll back the Medicaid expansion called for under Obama’s health initiative by ending the financing partnership between the federal government and the states. Instead it would create block grants giving states less federal money but freeing them to manage the program as they wish…

On discretionary spending, Ryan’s plan would match Obama’s call for Pentagon and war funding, but it proposes major cuts to domestic programs totaling $1.6 trillion over the next decade – holding growth in education, transportation, justice, food safety and other programs well below the rate of inflation. The move would make good on a Republican campaign pledge to restore domestic spending to levels in effect in 2008, before George W. Bush and Obama began pumping federal dollars into the economy to blunt the effects of recession.

Programs for the poor would get particular attention, the blueprint says, “to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.” [Pols emphasis]

Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is a sweeping declaration, folks, a point of debate that clarifies exactly where–and how far apart–the two ideological poles in American politics stand today. There’s no question, as we discussed before, that cuts of this magnitude would have major impacts on the economy; which, whether the “Tea Party” likes it or not, is underpinned by both the private and public sectors. But beyond that, there’s the simple history: these institutions the public takes for granted, that would be privatized, shrunk, or eliminated, arose in response to identified needs within American society. We have Medicare because senior citizens in America couldn’t get coverage, and as a result, couldn’t get health care. Just one example.

The voters may have an unrealistic vision of what they want, but we assure you, this is not it.

The Republicans have done the country a great service today by revealing their true vision–cuts that undo fundamental planks in America’s social safety net, while continuing to slash taxes. It’s a much more honest proposal than the previous unworkable policy of tax cuts and deficit-financed largesse, and that may be what the GOP will regret the most when this is over.

44 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Fidel's dirt nap says:

    Paul Ryan wants to take all ordinary Americans (those who are not millionaires) on a journey to serfdom, and tea partiers are so completely delusional they support it.

    Sad state of affairs.

  2. State Line says:

    Especially this part:

    The Republicans have done the country a great service today by revealing their true vision.

    There is PLENTY not to like in Ryan’s paradigm shifting proposal, as Fidel also notes.

    Still, credit where credit is due – at least the GOP has gone cards-on-table.

    That’s more than one can say about Obama. Why DOES someone run for the Oval Office without being willing to stake out a possibly perilous position on the signal issues of the day? Isn’t that what leadership is all about? Why do 64 Senators have to send the President a letter asking him to LEAD on our serious longterm deficit/debt/entitlement issues?

    Where is the meaningful Obama Plan to serve as an ideological and fiscal counterweight to Ryan’s? Waiting….

    • MRSmith says:

      is not about taking a position on whatever issue the media is currently obsessed with. Leadership is about making informed decisions and carrying out those decisions over months and years.

      Any White House budget is useless. Its just political theater. It has no political or fiscal meaning and would be DOA in the House. So why devote your time and energy to something that might win you the news cycle, but you know, is worthless.

      I think you’re paying heed too much to the media horse race side of politics.

    • sxp151 says:

      Obama spent the past two years laying out a plan for balancing the budget in the long term and proposed a budget earlier this year that Republicans rejected.

      Have you read the news articles saying, “Republicans want more cuts from Obama’s proposals”? That second part comes from the fact that Obama had proposals.

      Really, there are reasons to criticize the President, but “I don’t know how the budget process works” isn’t one of them.

      • State Line says:

        I worked with Jack Lew on State’s 2011 budget, so have a pretty good idea of how ‘the budget process’ works in DC.

        • sxp151 says:

          So you’re just pretending to be ignorant of it for purposes of criticizing Obama?  

          • State Line says:

            Because he feels it’s too politically dangerous to be out front. What does he think he was elected to do, if not propose and then implement the hard choices?

            That’s the reason 64 Senators felt it necessary to prod him to man-up. How embarassing is that?

            • sxp151 says:

              The President appointed a deficit commission which couldn’t reach a consensus decision. He proposed the broad outlines of a budget plan for the next few years and a specific budget plan for this year.

              Do you want him to plan for the budget in 20 years? What would be the point? What reason do you have to expect that any future generation of politicians would care any more about what Obama proposed now than they did about what Bush proposed ten years ago or what Clinton proposed 15 years ago?

              What is the thing you want, as far as policy goes? The best-case scenario is that Obama balances the budget next year, obtains a surplus, then gets voted out of office, and Republicans decide to ignore his long-term planning and say the surplus should be used for tax cuts until we’re back in deficits again. Want to know how I made this prediction?

              The fact that 64 Senators somehow found a way to impotently posture without agreeing to anything specific doesn’t surprise me or make me feel any sense of urgency. That’s what they do.

              • Fidel's dirt nap says:

                WTF is the purpose of putting so much effort and such a fine point on a budget plan that is just going to go in Boehners trash can ?

                This budget is in helvectia font ! What a total piece of shit !  You DO know I have a 4PM tee time at Congressional…

              • State Line says:

                To answer your question: I would like to see Obama propose a wideranging reform of the tax code, entitlement programs, and federal discretionary spending (very definitely including military outlays) that makes a serious attempt to right our federal fiscal condition over the next 5-6 years (the length of a 2nd Obama administration) – without glossing over the very difficult choices we face.

                In short, a reform plan that has the policy breadth of Paul Ryan’s proposal – but embodying centrist-to-liberal priorities.

                And then I would like to see him forcefully advocate for that vision in the 2012 election cycle – and ask the American people to send to Washington a Congress that will work with him to pass and implement his proposed reform package.

                Obama could go down as one of our handful of great presidents if he would make that necessary structural transformation the focus of a 2nd term.

                Instead, he and his advisors have apparently concluded such a demonstration of real political leadership is too fraught, a danger to his reelection. I think that’s a shame and a real waste of presidential power – and it makes me wonder why everyone was so hyped about Barack Obama 2 1/2 years ago.

                (Obama’s fecklessness is almost enough to make me miss W’s comparative decisiveness. Almost: the problem is that W’s decisions were – with a couple of notable exceptions like PEPFAR and the Libya nuke deal – very poor ones.)

                (Re Bowles-Simpson: They asked, damn near begged, the President to weigh in with his priorities – but he didn’t want to be ‘boxed in’. Pretty typical of how he’s handled most of the big issues of his presidency to-date.)  

                • sxp151 says:

                  Saying you sound like you don’t know how budgets work is a substantive criticism of your argument. A gratuitous personal attack would be something like “You’re probably a fat girl.” See the difference?

                  As for your main point, your basic assumption seems to be that our biggest problem in America today is not 10% unemployment but rather a larger deficit than the big deficits we’ve had for the past 60 years or so. But that in itself is a political view, one that Obama doesn’t necessarily share. (Most Democrats and even many independents probably don’t share it either.)

                  So before you say the President should take a stand in favor of your pet issue, maybe you should first try convincing people that it’s more serious than 10% unemployment or a housing/foreclosure crisis or any of the other serious problems ordinary people have. To me it feels like telling someone unemployed and starving to cancel his credit cards and have his kids go hungry rather than buying them food the only way he can. Some people have real problems.

                • sxp151 says:

                  I don’t believe “a serious attempt to right our federal fiscal condition over the next 5-6 years” is capable of “embodying centrist-to-liberal priorities,” since I think employment is the appropriate centrist-liberal priority, not deficit-reduction.

                  • State Line says:

                    The economy apprears (fragile-ly, with baby steps) to be turning around, so employment will one hopes improve albeit slowly.

                    But we’ll still face the longterm, structural imbalance between federal revenue & expenditures and need a President with the vision and cojones to address that.

                    Finally, if we DON’T address our longterm issues the ‘bond market’ – meaning all of those entities that have thus far continued to allow us to live on borrowed money – will pull the plus on Debtor U.S.A. THEN we’ll have a SERIOUS collapse that will make the current unemployment #s look like ‘the good ol’ days’….

  3. BlueCat says:

    All these years during which we’ve had all this terrific competition in the private carrier sector which way has the cost of care and coverage gone, especially for those in the private insurance market as all those new 65+ year olds will be?   And of course, since they also want to repeal Obama’s reforms, that would mean private insurers could continue to deny anyone they please, cut people off when they get too expensive, etc.

    Raise your hands if you think killing medicare and giving seniors coupons is going to keep their personal health care costs down and the quality up.  More likely it will be just like school Douglas County school vouchers: a discount coupon that will not be enough to provide decent, affordable healthcare for the overwhelming majority.  Way more need for states and public to pick up huge medicaid and, Coffman’s personal favorite, Universal Healthcare via ER costs. No savings, just shifting the burden of much higher costs, as usual, to the backs of middle and low income Americans.  Naturally all other state services will be slashed to cover astronomically higher state costs that won’t be met by block grants.

    This isn’t about budget.  It isn’t about better health care for seniors.  It’s just more let them eat cake, privatization, free market capitalism for the peasants, full protection socialism for the corporate elite ideology.

    I heard a Dem Rep declaiming against this as part of the GOP drive to shrink government to bath tub size and drown it.  Wrong.  They love big fat intrusive government that tells you who you can marry,  gets between you and your doctor, picks the economy’s winners and losers with tax payer financed breaks, subsidies and credits.  

    It’s one more part of their plan, a great big one, to transform, not shrink, government, into a private preserve wholly owned and operated by a few hundred families at the top. There is nothing these people hate more than the policies and the democratic process that give the inconvenient little people any significant economic or political power. That just gets in the way of the divinely anointed ones and that’s what they consider themselves to be.  Can you say “oligarchy”?

  4. Half Glass FullHalf Glass Full says:

    We cannot RESPONSIBLY tackle our deficits until we realize that taxes need to go up, not down. That’s just a fact of life.

    • State Line says:

      Americans are taxed at the lowest rate in more than 50 years.

      The entire economy – private sector, public sector, and households – needs to deleverage, deleverage, deleverage. That means less consumption (and more investment) across-the-board in the short/medium term.

      But will in the long run lead to a healthier, more sustainable growth than our 30-year debt-fueled binge that, predictably, tipped us into 2008′s Great Recession.

      Did anyone else notice last month when PIMCO – the world’s largest holder of private and public debt – sold off its entire portfolio of U.S. Treasuries? Not exactly a vote of confidence in America’s longterm fiscal viability. Or in the ability of politicians of either party –  let alone a milquetoast President – to set things right.

      • caroman says:

        I think EJ Dionne mentioned yesterday that going back to the tax rates during the Clinton era would raise the $4 trillion in ten years that Ryan wants to cut.  If true, that seems like a pretty good start for negotiation.

        • State Line says:

          But the whole entitlements discussion also needs to be on the table.

          Along with a more wholescale reform of the Tax Code, eliminating corporate tax loopholes, most Ag subsidies, perhaps the cherished mortgage interest deduction – and the ‘carry interest’ provisions that allow private equity managers to pay lower tax rates than their secretaries….

          • Fidel's dirt nap says:

            If we have to kick the old and sick to the curb now and give another sweetheart deal to the dysfunctional system of private health insurance, could we please at least ask GE to pay, maybe, some tax next year ?

            Would that be asking too much ?

            The majority of poor and middle class americans are taking it in the balls and then when they ask for some sort of equity they are engaging in class warfare.

            TAKE BACK YOUR GOVERNMENT !  THEN GIVE IT TO GE !

          • Ralphie says:

            is a solution of last resort.  Let’s let the rich pay their fair share first.

            While Ryan’s proposed cuts to Medicare might look appealing to those younger than 55, wait until they get to be 60 and nobody wants to insure them at any price, vouchers or not.

            • State Line says:

              As much as I LOVE kicking ‘the rich’ in the teeth….it’s going to take more than just that to get America’s fiscal house in order.

              The fact is, we’ve ALL been living high on the hog for the last 30-40 years – with easy money and deficit spending, putting our kids & grandkids in hock to the Chinese etc.

              You know all of this Ralphie: we’re a spoiled generation and have yet to pay the price for that.

              The deleveraging knife will have to cut across ALL sectors of Amerian life, not only the very wealthy….

              • Ralphie says:

                However, I have been working my ass off and paying into Medicare like most other working stiffs.

                I don’t consider myself to be spoiled just because I don’t want to live under a bridge.

                Your mileage might vary.

                • droll says:

                  getting 75% of what I put into SS, I agree with you, Ralphie.

                  A deal is a deal. And it’s not like the people being shoved off (either wholly or partly) of any “entitlement” programs have any choice at this point. I have nearly 40 years to deal with my shortfall.

                  • Ralphie says:

                    Stay healthy.  It’s the only way you’ll get insurance when you’re 60.  Unfortunately, perfectly healthy people at age 60 are the exception rather than the rule.  They key word is “perfectly.”  Nobody wants to insure us if we’re not perfect.

                    We need a public option, not this privatization bullshit from Ryan.  Or State Line.

                • State Line says:

                  but I also recognize the entire society has been living on easy credit and borrowed money. (Not me, I have zero debt, but that’s just been my choice: I prefer to pay as I go.)

                  Time to bing it home – back to reality.  

                  • sxp151 says:

                    when you’re doing just fine. That’s why people who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to write 750 words a week in newspaper columns love it so much.

                    As for whether you want privatization or not, it’s kind of irrelevant. The stakes are thus: one side is proposing to eliminate Medicare entirely. The other side has to defend Medicare now. If you want “entitlement reform” but refuse to say exactly what you mean by that, everyone has to view it as an endorsement of the Ryan plan at this point.

                    Sticking up for Medicare now means taking a stand that says whether you managed to stay healthy at 60 is irrelevant, whether you saved up enough to pay for private insurance is irrelevant, whether Kaiser Permanente descends from heaven and decides to give you health care out of the goodness of their hearts is irrelevant; America thinks you DESERVE health care just for being an American. Do you believe in that principle?

                    Obama opened us up to debating entitlement reform in the middle of a horrible recession/depression, which I think was stupid. He did it partly to please people like you. Now we’re in the middle of that, and this is how it’s turned out. Where are you now?

  5. ProgressiveCowgirlProgressiveCowgirl says:

    * Wars and occupations overseas.

    * A bloated prisons system keeping many nonviolent inmates, whose only “victims” were themselves, dependent upon taxpayer dollars for their food and shelter, rather than working and paying taxes.

    * Corporate welfare.

    * A growing false-security state that costs more every year while freely admitting that 70% of the information it receives falls “to the floor” due to Clausewitz’s Fog.

    In other words, who gets more from the government? The rich, megacorporations, big oil, and the government itself, through the military and the “homeland security” cancer that has time and again failed to show any proof that its continual expansions have made America safer.

    Who gets less? As Pols says, the elderly and the poor. Not to mention people with disabilities, children, small business owners, first time homeowners, the environment, and the entire middle class.

    Let them shut the government down and let them keep it shut down for as long as it damn well takes to either eliminate these disastrous cuts or pair them with equal or greater cuts to corporate welfare and war spending.

    If we can’t afford to take care of our senior citizens or give our children a decent public education or subsidize a few radio programs, so be it. I’d like to see the budget balanced and our national debt reduced as much as anyone. But if we can’t afford to live like a first world country in terms of taking care of our own, then we certainly can’t afford two foreign wars (and a foreign “military action”) nor can we afford to continue corporate welfare programs, nor can we afford to continue prosecuting victimless crimes. We certainly can’t afford to prohibit activities that drive economic growth, such as an increase in weddings via same sex marriages. And we definitely can’t afford to subsidize religious organizations of any stripe; they’ll just have to rely on the private charity that they suggest should replace social welfare systems.

    All or nothing, right-wingers. If you want to drown the national debt in the bathtub, start throwing out the big ticket items. NPR and Planned Parenthood are already in the blue light special bin. Cut the caviar out of the budget before you go after bologna sandwiches. If we only spend money on wars and prisons, war and prison will be the only “career” options for the next generation of young people who would once have been “middle class.”

    • droll says:

      Large corporations employ us all (right?) and therefore deserve the breaks. Why should the brilliant CEO’s pay for health programs they can’t use?

      Ha, ha! But seriously. You know that’s the reasoning.

      I believe that we all have our own magic line of what we’re willing to let happen in our society. Fair enough. There has to be a line, otherwise people we couldn’t save from themselves would end up in… “gated communities” or something.

      I just wish the party as a whole would be more honest about their line. Hiding it just kind of proves that the majority of voters don’t agree with them, doesn’t it? Or maybe not. How many “liberal” old senior living facilities do you think there are? I wonder what FOX will tell them all to think about this public declaration of the line. :eyeroll: (sigh)

      • Old Time Dem says:

        put the current crop of teabaggers into Congress.  The payback is that they get to keep their primo single-payer health plan and everyone else gets to go fuck themselves.

  6. sxp151 says:

    here, Republicans campaigned in the 2010 election not on government slash-and-burn, but on…saving Medicare. Maybe it wasn’t in the horse-race stuff that the DC press writes about, but it was in all the TV ads that people actually watched. Ads that ran against Democratic incumbents basically all said, “S/he voted for Obamacare which cut Medicare!”

  7. 20th Maine says:

    I have yet to read where you acknowledge that the budget is a problem.  Is it?  Perhaps that’s where the major differences lie:

    From Feb 13 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

    Less than two months after signing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans into law, President Barack Obama proposed a spending plan to Congress that cuts funding to programs that assist the working poor, help the needy heat their homes, and expand access to graduate-level education, undermining the kind of community-based organizations that helped Obama launch his political career in Chicago.

    Obama’s new budget puts forward a plan to achieve $1.1 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade, according to an administration official who spoke to the Associated Press…

    Obama doesn’t seem to be taking the debt seriously.  Neither does anyone here.  But behind closed doors, is that the party position?

    Republicans are (finally) putting principle before politics and offering a budget that is responsible if not politically expedient.  Meanwhile, you sit on the sidelines, cynically and insincerely pointing fingers and heckling.

    If the debt isn’t a problem for you, just come out and say it.  Though I’m not sure how you think the status quo is somehow a good thing.

    On the other hand, if you think the debt is a problem, address it.  $1.1T over 10 years isn’t serious, but it is politically expedient.  

    A real solution is going to hurt quite a bit.  The holy grail is how to accomplish it and still provide political cover.  I realize the downsides to it, but the answer might be a Balanced Budget Amendment.

    • sxp151 says:

      That will tell me whether you are serious about deficit reduction.

      Somehow I have a strong feeling I know the answer already.

    • For me, the debt is less of a problem than any number of other issues, at least in the short term.  Making sure this economy doesn’t look like the Japanese lost decade is more important to me than the debt.  Keeping our promises to our citizens (and employees) is a higher priority to me than the debt.

      However, I do think we need to cut true waste in government.  I think we spend way too much on military projects – and reducing military spending as the Obama Administration has done and wishes to continue doing will account for more budgetary relief than any other change short of a wholesale ending of Medicare and Medicaid could manage.  I think we need to re-evaluate the money we spend on the drug war, and how we’re addressing homeland security, and any number of other issues.

      I also think that you failed to mention the elephant in the room quite deliberately: our taxes are at their lowest level in 50 years at the same time we are facing increased expenditures from a number of sources – wars, interest on the debt, medical expenses….  That isn’t a sane economic policy; we must address the tax issue or debt and deficits will remain a part of our national discussion well in to the future.

      • 20th Maine says:

        If you’re opinion, Phoenix, is typical of the Democratic electorate at large, a party leader should just come out and say it.  Then we can have an honest debate.

        I don’t know the numbers, but it doesn’t seem to me that govt waste, an Obama-style cut in the military budget or ending the drug war would cut $4-6T off our debt (what I believe to be serious numbers).  Though, to your point – maybe the debt shouldn’t be in our top 3-5 national priorities.

        I believe it should be.  How can we sustain ourselves at the current pace of spending vs. revenue?  Paying the debt down, considerably if not totally, would go a long way to improving our economic outlook and keeping our promises.

        As for comments here about raising taxes, I would keep them on the table.  As I would defense spending.  If not Ryan’s budget proposal, I would take the Bipartisan Budget Commission’s proposal http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/0… too.

        They are both serious proposals that address both the debt and many of the underlying structural deficiencies that have put us in this position.  I haven’t seen anything from Democratic leadership that does the same.

        • sxp151 says:

          How can we have an honest debate with someone who’s too dishonest to answer the simplest of questions? In case you forgot, it’s “how did you feel about extending Bush’s tax cuts?”

          Honest debate. Here’s your chance to say what you supported three months ago the last time we had a chance to lower the deficit.

          No, I don’t expect you to reply to this either. It’s the thing that shoots a giant hole in your argument, so naturally you’d avoid it.

        • Raises taxes on those who can least afford it while giving even more tax breaks to the wealthy, who are now more wealthy than at any time since the days of the Robber Barons.  And at the same time it openly takes a stab at killing the New Deal and the Great Society which have made this country the economic engine that it has been for nearly three quarters of a century.

          The Bipartisan Budget Commission doesn’t have a proposal – it failed to issue a report before its commission ended, and the report issued after that deadline by the two (conservative-leaning) heads of the panel failed to gain the required vote, late or no.  It’s only claim to fame is that someone is giving it the time of day because it’s the most official looking piece of paper from the commission, offered by two former Senators who have a lot of brotherly respect from their current Senate colleagues.

  8. Ray SpringfieldRay Springfield says:

    I doubt they would just give me my medicare taxes back. It’s a ripoff, and they know it,

  9. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    The rest of this is solvable, but medical inflation is ruining us and any plan will fail if it can’t control medical costs.

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