Politics

03.13.13

Ryan: No Juice

Well, this Ryan business isn't working out so well this time. When you're a Republican, and not just any Republican but their great fiscal guru, and even Fox News personalities are calling you unrealistic, you've laid an egg.

Here's a salient snip from this morning's Washington Post editorial, which is mostly negative and unlike previous editorials is written in the bored tone of having seen this movie before:

This brings us to the ideas that are too unrealistic to worry about: chiefly, Mr. Ryan’s proposal to save $1.8 trillion by repealing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and insurance exchanges. Combined with $700 billion in anticipated net interest savings, the Obamacare repeal accounts for more than half of the deficit reduction in Mr. Ryan’s budget — which pretty much closes the book on it as a serious guide to future policy.

There you have it. Not serious. There is no greater sin in these matters.

Barack Obama, I was relieved to see, heeded my words from yesterday. Here's part of a Politico write-up on what he told George Stephanopoulos last night:

President Obama's plans won't balance the federal budget in the coming decade, he said Tuesday, stressing that his top priority is growing the economy and not a balanced budget.

“My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we are going to be bringing in more revenue,” he said in an interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos.

Obama said he's opposed to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan released Tuesday, which would balance the budget in a decade.

“We’re not gonna balance the budget in ten years because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucher-ize Medicare, you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid, you’ve essentially got to either tax middle class families a lot higher than you currently are or you can’t lower rates the way he’s promised."

That's sensible enough for now. So Ryanism is basically dead, except as a great campaign tool for Democrats in 2014, a subject to which we'll return later in the week.

Meanwhile, reading through the comments of the Politico piece shows that conservatives still take the view that Obama has been the biggest spender in US history and wants to suffocate America under a mountain of debt and all the rest of it. So in that light here's a little quiz for you, in two questions. What was the deficit the day Obama took office, and what is it now?

It's hard to estimate exactly what it was on January 20, 2009, because these things are measured from October 1 to October 1, but here's a factual piece from Factcheck.org that tells the story pretty thoroughly, estimating that in January 2009, the actual deficit that Obama inherited the moment he took the oath of office was $1.2 trillion. He went on to add $200 billion to that by October. So at first, he did indeed increase the deficit.

Today? As you should know, the experts are estimating that by this October 1, the deficit will be $845 billion. Some consider that there's a sporting chance that if we keep adding 250,000 jobs a month, and the economy exceeds expectations, the actual deficit by the end of the fiscal year will clock in lower.

So let's say for the sake of argument that it's $790 billion this October. That's still a high deficit, but it's a reduction of 44 percent. In three years! Three years during which Obama, as Mitt Romney put it last year, has allegedly orchestrated a "spending inferno."

It just isn't true. And the deficit is actually coming down fairly rapidly, which deprives Ryan's argument of all its urgency and makes it justifiably harder for the deficit-hawk crowd to gain traction. Ryan is preaching to a choir that's getting smaller and smaller.