Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Stupidity Of Proposing A Budget (The Ryan Budget)

Tuesday, January 24, will mark the 1,000th day since the U.S. Senate has passed a budget—an egregious dereliction of duty on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D–NV) watch. By enacting continuing resolution upon continuing resolution (short-term measures to keep the government running, spending money at the current rate), the Senate has taken a pass on leading, all to the detriment of the poor and middle class.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Obama will win the argument if the electorate is as gullible as Nina and Mark and Evan in accepting what the Administration is saying about the cuts. You just said cutting student loans. Actually, the Ryan budget keeps the level of public Pell grants exactly where it is. 
What Obama speaks about when he talks about a cut is he wants to keep inflating the amount of spending the government is doing. Today the government spends 25 percent of the economy which is the highest since the Second World War. The average is 20 percent. He’s now at 25 percent. So what he calls a cut means the not increasing of a budget he’s already inflated radically. There are no cuts in student loans. on the discussion around the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts:
Republican Rep. Adam Putnam, Florida: The Democratic budget that we will vote on this evening raises taxes. And if you don’t believe it, just wait until your tax bill comes due in a couple of years when you are asked to pay more than you are today. And you will be asked to pay the largest tax increase in American history.
Everyone Is Trying To Bullshit You
The second two quotes, above, are bolded to point out that the political speech coming out of our leaders is entirely constructed to try to bullshit you. If holding Pell grants steady is a "cut" and letting a sunset clause enact on tax-cuts is a "tax increase" then what's totally clear is that no one respects your ability to make the decisions they want you to on the merits of the facts themselves. When everyone is using loaded language to have a discussion one thing is abundantly clear: no one in the conversation respects you.

In courtrooms juries are sometimes prevented from taking notes or asking questions (this is going away, thankfully). The common arguments are that one might be so engrossed in writing everything down that they miss the testimony--or that a juror asking improper questions might "poison" a jury--or otherwise have things get out of control. These are not unreasonable concerns on the surface--but let's not exclude another probable rationale: the people (lawyers) making the rules want the case to come down to which attorney can fast-talk the jury better. If the juries have agency they can cut into the traditional power-brokers in the court. This may not be the primary or even conscious reasons for these prohibitions--but to think it isn't a reason is naive. Both lawyers would rather a lawyer be in control of the case than a jury.

Perhaps You Are Wondering Why There Is No Budget? 
It is possible you are sitting at home wondering--angrily--why the Senate has failed to propose and pass a budget under Democratic ownership. Indeed, the above-linked Heritage foundation blog (not to mention many other commentators) find the 1000 day number "embarrassing." They say "Senate has utterly failed to execute the most basic, fundamental function of governance at the worst possible time". 

You might be wondering why they have not done this basic thing they're supposed to. It's totally true they're supposed to do it. It's totally true they haven't done it. Why not? Well wonder no longer: if anyone was actually questioning it, I'm here to clear this up.

The problem is You.

Well, maybe not you. It's possible you know why it hasn't happened and would like to take some action to clear it up (like finding a way to vote that isn't totally partisan: good luck with that). See, what's going on is that the Democrats are smart enough (and this does not take genius--I'm not accusing anyone of being a genius here) to know that proposing a budget is a no-win situation. Proposing a budget is a mistake. If things don't change we may never see anyone propose a budget again (at least no one relying on bi-partisanship to pass it).

Yeah. He's going to be the object lesson.

Allow me to lead with the punchline: unless you can find some way to reduce the deficit without cutting popular programs and raising taxes, any budget you propose is going to be a political liability. This is because no one--including Tea Party Republicans wants popular entitlement programs cut (Medicare, Social Security). Very few people want the military eviscerated. As a nation, we like R&D. The stuff we could maybe agree on? Foreign aid? That's all small potatoes. Peanuts. Close your eyes as tight as you can and wish as hard as you want: cutting the National Endowment for the Arts will not make any significant difference.

Cleaning up systemic waste and corruption? Getting rid of earmarks? Forget it. Not. Going. To Work.

So if you are one of those guys who wants the government to "do things better" (Stop paying $500.00 for a hammer! I read they paid 500.00 for a hammer!) I'm here to tell you the 'Fiscal Fairy' is a myth. She's not real. She can't leave twenty trillion dollars under Sarah Palin's pillow. Every simple solution you have heard is a non-starter.

That's The Good News
What's the bad news? The bad news is that something is going to happen and someone is going to be hit with The Pain. Why is this? This is because we are not Greece. Oh, yeah--that too? It's bullshit. Are we in deep deficit trouble? Yes. Is it like Greece? No. It is not like Greece for a couple of reasons. Primarily (1) we can print our own currency and (2) we have the strongest military on the face of the earth, great natural resources, huge valuable land-areas and, despite what you have heard, the largest manufacturing industry in the world.

So we're not going to have the European Union--or the Chinese (despite what you heard, they own 9.8% of the US National Debt--not exactly a controlling interest)--come in and set up a technocrat government to impose austerity on us. No--what's going to happen instead is that someone--one single faction--whoever lucks out--is going to get to impose their financial vision on America.

And because you are a partisan voter--because right now that's about all we have to vote for--it'll be a partisan vision. Which means the suck will not be rationally spread: someone is going to get hit with an someone else's philosophical amount of it. It'll be up to who has the more manipulative TV ads to decide who that is.

The Ryan Budget
Paul Ryan has proposed a budget. Ryan is, by all accounts, bright if not brilliant. He is eloquent. When he explains his budget he is a skilled communicator. People listen to him and decide he makes sense. He has degrees in economics and political science. He is serving his 7th term in congress.

He ought to have known better.

You can read the Congressional Budget Office's report on it here. It's complicated and there's no good summary. You can read the CBO's blog post which does give us a decent summation. The short form? It'll reduce the government debt and give us a surplus by 2040 but most seniors would pay more for Medicare. That might be a decent trade-off. I can't tell. ThinkProgress, unabashedly left-wing, says that 62% of the spending cuts hit low-income assistance and gives a ~200k tax cut to every millionaire. Is that bullshit? I can't tell. Probably, given how everyone is talking these days, to some degree--but when I read Ryan's own writing, I think: maybe not.
Equally troubling has been the effect on national character. Until recently, Americans were known and admired everywhere for their hopeful determination to assume responsibility for the quality of their own lives; to rely on their own work and initiative; and to improve opportunities for their children to prosper in the future. But over time, Americans have been lured into viewing government – more than themselves, their families, their communities, their faith – as their main source of support; they have been drawn toward depending on the public sector for growing shares of their material and personal well-being. The trend drains individual initiative and personal responsibility. It creates an aversion to risk, sapping the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for growth, innovation, and prosperity. In turn, it subtly and gradually suffocates the creative potential for prosperity.
Trying to cut down on "An Expanding Culture of Dependency" (the heading for that piece) might be a philosophy--but when we are in the middle of the greatest economic downturn since the great depression that, you know, might not be the time to try to sell exactly that.

So what's going to happen?

Well, Romney called the Ryan plan "Marvelous" (he should've called it severely marvelous) and Obama was all "That's great--now you own it. Throw grandma off a cliff, Mitt."

And you know what? Romney, who hammered the heck out of Rick Perry for his Social-Security-Is-A-Ponzi-Scheme apostasy, is probably going to be hurt by this. Senior entitlements are the 3rd rail and if Obama carries the John Kerry states and wins just Florida? It's over. OVAH.

So this is good strategy for Team Obama--and people in the future are likely to go "Why, oh why did Ryan propose a budget?"

Why Did He?
I'm still trying to figure that one out. I think the answer is that Ryan is appealing to a solidified section of the base who see everything in there (except possibly balancing the budget before 2040) as an unalloyed good. Segments of the Tea Party will love this and don't have a problem with either tax breaks for millionaires (assuming that is even true) or with seniors paying more for Medicare. Certainly not with low-income assistance tax cuts.

In any event, they will argue that the costs, whatever they are, are worth it. I don't know if they're wrong: what happened to Greece won't happen to us--but there are other bad and even worse fates.

But I do know this: right now? Opening your mouth about budget?

Nothing fits in there but your foot. With bullet holes in it.

No comments:

Post a Comment