ROUGH CUTS

04.03.14

Paul Ryan: Still a Total Jerk

With the release of his bizarre budget this week, the congressman from Wisconsin proves once again that he’s a wishy-washy wonk unworthy of sainthood.

Remind me not to get in a foxhole with Paul Ryan. At the first sign of trouble, he’ll pack up his gunny sack and head for base camp, running into the latrine to hide.

Or so I conclude from the budget he released this week. Remember how last year Ryan was reinventing himself as the true friend of “the poors,” as we ironically say in liberal blogland? Aside from being stunned that all those skewed polls turned out to be exactly on the money and he and Mitt Romney lost, he was also, we were told, chagrined and maddened that he came away from the 2012 campaign with a reputation as a pitiless Randian with a hole where his heart used to be.

So he set out last year to prove us all wrong. He hired a disaffected ex-Democratic wonk as his top social-policy guy. He was getting the great press you’d expect out of Politico, which loves Republicans Who Confound Liberals (“The new Paul Ryan,” last December 10; “Is Paul Ryan the GOP’s Next Jack Kemp?”, December 12; someone was asleep at the wheel on December 11 I guess). America would soon see the revealed truth: Government keeps poor people poor, bleeds them of the pluck and spunk needed to liberate oneself from the dependent-American community. St. Paul would save them.

Then came the CPAC conference a month ago, and he tells one little story, about the kid who didn’t want a free lunch, just a normal brown bag like the other kids, and he gets it wrong, and the real and true version of the story doesn’t remotely prove the point he wants it to prove in his retelling, and he gets hammered over it for days, and boom, he throws in the poverty towel. To blazes with those poors. Kicking them was pretty fun after all.

I jest, of course, with my chronology. But the budget he put out this week is nothing to laugh at. Or maybe on reflection it is something to laugh at. Why in the world does it exist, and what good do he and his fellow House Republicans think it’s going to do them?

In case you haven’t heard the basic skinny, it’s a budget that’s very pre-new Paul Ryan, characterized by the two features that have chiefly characterized all Ryan budgets: meanness and dishonesty. Meanness starts with the $5.1 trillion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending programs over 10 years, with steep cuts to Medicaid and food stamps, and—

No, wait. Let’s stop here and mull this food stamp cut. As you probably know, in last year’s farm bill negotiations, House Republicans proposed a $40 billion cut to food stamps. By the time the House and Senate agreed to a farm bill last month, that was whittled down to $8.7 billion over 10 years. That’s a small cut in percentage terms (about 1 percent). But even it takes $90 a month away from 850,000 poor families. Ryan’s proposed food stamps cut? $125 billion. More than 14  times the size of the already controversial current cut. As St. Paul sayeth, we rejoice in our sufferings.

The budget he put out this week is nothing to laugh at. Or maybe on reflection it is something to laugh at. Why in the world does it exist, and what good do he and his fellow House Republicans think it’s going to do them?

Beyond that it’s the usual Dickensian gruel. Federal programs block-granted, which always means far less money and almost always means that governors can spend the money on some more rewarding and more agreeably ZIP-coded constituency if they want to. Huge education cuts. Big cuts to Pell Grants. Oh, and here’s a nice touch—college students would start being charged interest on their loans while still in college, so that now, on top of everything else, the Republican Party is getting into the usury business.

Now don’t think I’ve forgotten the dishonesty part. Obamacare, as you might recall from the aforementioned campaign, cuts $716 billion in payments to hospitals and such. You remember—Romney and Ryan pounded on Obama about that $716 billion. You’re killing the oldsters, and so on.

Well, Ryan’s budget would repeal Obamacare. And yet, it pockets that same roughly $700 billion in Medicare cuts as savings, and, as Sahil Kapur noted for TPM, it “uses the savings to meet its fiscal targets.” How dandy is that? Hate Obamacare hate Obamacare hate Obamacare hate Obamacare…Oh, but I’ll pocket that $700 billion, Barack, thanks, great idea!

I haven’t even mentioned the plan’s biggest political weakness, which is Ryan’s return, yes, to Medicare, to quasi-privatizing it for people under 55. Democrats, until this week wholly on the defensive, have now been handed a huge sledgehammer. The 7.1 million Obamacare enrollees takes the heat off health care for the time being and allows for a topic change. And so here comes Ryan, the very day after Obamacare enrollment closed, offering that topic.

Why? Why is he re-introducing the idea of tampering with Medicare in an election year? In fact, why even release a document such as this? And why, having released it, force all your members to vote on it within the next week or so, which Ryan and Eric Cantor vow will happen? As Greg Sargent pointed out Wednesday, eight House Republicans in six different states are going to have to vote for this Medicare- and Medicaid-killing budget (old people understand that “Medicaid” means “nursing home care”).

And, depending on how you rate these things, there are around 25 House Republicans who could conceivably lose to Democrats this November. Why force them to vote for this? Or maybe if you’re John Boehner you don’t force them to. You let them vote no. But then you lose! Then what a laughing stock you are! But you’ll probably get 218 votes one way or another. So fine—you’ve forced some people in vulnerable positions to vote aye, but hey, you’ve won the vote. Then what? Then nothing. Harry Reid’s Senate will not even take it up. So it’s all symbolism.

And this is the symbol the GOP wants to present? The party that destroys federal education programs, Medicaid, food stamps, and (in the future) Medicare? I suppose they think it’ll rev up their base. Will it really? This is the fifth Ryan budget by my count. They’ve all said in essence the same thing, and they’ve all gone the same place: nowhere.

I’d like to know, sort of, what’s actually in Paul Ryan’s head and heart. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. What matters with him, as with any politician, is what he puts on paper. And here we have it. If this is trying to help the poor, then what Putin is doing in Russia is pro-gay. At least we won’t have to read any more “Paul Ryan loves poor people” stories. So long, St. Paul.