Back in Paul Ryan's Wisconsin District...
The voters in Kenosha, Racine, Janesville-- hometown of both Ryan and Russ Feingold-- Oak Creek and Muskego (let alone in rural Walworth County) never see headlines like the one in the L.A. Times this weekend: Neediest and sickest would pay the price under GOP budget plan. Ryan's budget plan. A plan-- or as Ryan put it on TV last week, "a cause"-- that the Big Business interests which have very generously underwritten Ryan's political career are salivating to impose on America. The column starts with a question: "Rep. Paul D. Ryan's proposals would relieve the government of much of the responsibility for paying for healthcare, but if the result is that individuals carry a heavier burden, is that really a 'path to prosperity'?"
The principal target of Ryan's plan is government healthcare spending-- Medicare, Medicaid and the healthcare reform plan. That's a reasonable place to aim any deficit-reduction plan, because that's the area where costs are rising most sharply.
But his solutions are the antithesis of reasonable. They involve almost entirely throwing the neediest and sickest Americans out from under the government umbrella to fend for themselves. Medicare as we know it would be eradicated, the cost of Medicaid shifted largely to already hard-pressed state government, and a reform program designed to give tens of millions more Americans the protection of health insurance canceled outright.
Is this really the only path to deficit reduction?
Obama, to his credit, drew a philosophical line in the sand that his progressive supporters have been waiting to see for two years. Ryan's vision, he said last week, "says America can't afford to keep the promise we've made to care for our seniors…. It's a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit."
Obama connected the dots between the House Republican majority's proposed spending cuts and its determination to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers-- proposals to cut out not only government healthcare but a host of programs that directly benefit the middle and working class while indirectly helping to build the American economy for the future.
That's "a vision that says even though Americans can't afford to invest in education at current levels, or clean energy, even though we can't afford to maintain our commitment on Medicare or Medicaid, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy," he said.
Indeed, as the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office found in its analysis of the plan (done at Ryan's request), until the Medicare and Medicaid cuts kick in starting in 2022, the red ink of its tax cuts overwhelms the savings from other program reductions. Ryan's plan actually increases federal public debt compared with what it would be under current law: to 70% of gross domestic product under the Ryan plan compared with 67% under current law. Nevertheless, it passed by a party-line vote Friday, just before the nation's lawmakers high-tailed it out of Washington for a two-week vacation.
As for the health programs, the House passed Ryan's proposal to extinguish Medicare as a guaranteed coverage program and substitute healthcare vouchers, allowing seniors to buy private health insurance with a government subsidy.
Although it may open up the doors to great profits for Ryan's corporate benefactors, this isn't a cost-effective way to deliver healthcare, not compared to Medicare. Much of the money in Ryan's plan would go not for health but for out-of-control administrative costs and for corporate profits and obscene corporate salaries. "Ryan," the L.A. Times informs us, "is right when he suggests that his plan would 'fix' Medicare; it's the same way that the Mafia 'fixes' an informer. In both cases the solution guarantees that the target won't be around to create trouble anymore, and as long as you don't feel remorse about collateral damage you're home free... [R]epealing healthcare reform simply reinstates the system of coverage dominated by private profit-seeking companies that has failed to stem rising medical costs for decades, while leaving some 47 million American residents uninsured." But this isn't the kind of criticism of their congressman voters in Wisconsin's first congressional district ever hears.
Although George W. Bush won in WI-1 both times he ran, McCain only managed to take 48% of the vote. Yes, Obama won Ryan's district. It's a swing district but a swing district that the DCCC has studiously ignored for Ryan's entire tenure. It's a congressional district that was utterly dominated by Democratic powerhouse Congressman Les Aspin from 1971 to 1933 (when President Clinton appointed him Secretary of Defense). Aspin first ran as an anti-Vietnam War candidate. His campaign was all about peace and he won a contentious Democratic primary and then went on to beat the Republican incumbent Henry Schadeberg-- and every other Republican who came up against him for two decades. After he went off to the Pentagon Assemblyman Peter Barca won the special election to serve out the remainder of Aspin's term, beating Aspin's last opponent, right-wing businessman Mark Neumann. Aspin had beat Neumann 147,485 (58%) to 104,352 (41%). Turnout was much lower for the special and Barca only scraped by with a 675 vote margin-- 44,605 (49.9%) to 54,930 (49.3%). 1994 was the year of Newt Gingrich's "Republican Revolution" and Neumann ran again. This time he was one of 52 GOP pick-ups. He beat Barca by 1,120 votes-- 83,937 (49.4%) to 82,817 (48.8%). Two years later Lydia Spottswood offered him a vigorous challenge and he managed to win, but just barely, 50.9% to 49.1%. That's the kind of district it was. When Neumann gave up his House seat in 1998 to run against Russ Feingold for the U.S. Senate, Ryan won the GOP primary and went on to beat Spottswood's unfocussed, lackluster campaign 107,392 (57%) to 80,747 (43%). Ryan has never had a serious challenge in any of his reelection campaigns, averaging around 65% totals against hopeless, even pathetic, opponents. Example-- in 2006 perennial candidate Jeffrey Thomas, a well-meaning orthopedic surgeon who ran against Ryan 4 times, donated $1,687 to his own campaign, adamantly refused to take campaign contributions from anyone else and was outspent by Ryan by an unprecedented margin-- $1,316,881. As usual, the DCCC took no part in the race, seemingly delighted to see Ryan continue to build up a legend as a popular, unbeatable candidate who is always swept into reelection.
Wall Street, Big Business, Corporate America, whatever you want to call it, is desperate to put Ryan up as their political front man. They've funneled more money into his political career than any other politician in the history of Wisconsin and their media continuously refers to Ryan in terms that are unrelated to the objective facts. He's "courageous" and "brave" and "serious" and one media outlet after another, especially in his district, repeats these descriptions as though they were the newly discovered, long-lost 11th commandment. Newspapers in Racine and Milwaukee ignore the actually serious series of analyses by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman who has shown Ryan is nothing more than a fraud who doesn't know anything about economics beyond what he learned reading Ayn Rand in high school and what he gets fed by Wall Street and GOP ideological talking points shops.
Even before Ryan's latest blueprint for ending Medicare, Krugman warned the country that he's basically a flim flam man.
Ryan has become the Republican Party’s poster child for new ideas thanks to his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.’s fiscal conscience. He’s often described with phrases like “intellectually audacious.”
But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce... The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.
Soon it will be the one year anniversary of Professor Krugman's Don't Know Much About Economics column dedicated to the Wall Street golden boy in which he eviscerates the notion that Ryan has any idea of what he's talking about, though not that he's the best the GOP Congress has to offer. "Ryan’s idea of fiscal reform," Krugman warned us even back then, "is to run huge deficits for decades, but claim that it’s all OK because we’ll cut spending 40 years from now; and he throws a hissy fit when people challenge his numbers, or call privatization by its real name. But hey, he’s intellectually ambitious."
Ambitious, yes. Intellectually ambitious? Well for someone who thinks Ayn Rand is an intellectual... sure. Yesterday Ryan was on Face the Nation doing what Wall Street pays him to do: lying his ass off about his "cause," or what the GOP is passing off as his budget proposal. Soon after he started reciting his talking points it was impossible to keep track of all the misinformation and outright deception. Remember, Ryan, who is basing his budget on "closing loopholes" has adamantly supported corporate loopholes for his entire career, even voting against closing tax loopholes for companies shipping jobs overseas and using those loopholes to lower their tax liability. Underscoring his lack of credibility on loopholes, he voted against closing them again this year when the Democrats proposed stopping the federal government from giving contracts to companies that outsource American jobs overseas. When Ryan runs to the media-- as he's been doing all week-- insisting that “we're saying keep tax rates where they are right now, get rid of all those loopholes and deductions which are mostly enjoyed by wealthy people so you can lower tax rates” he carefully trying to mislead his listeners. He does the same thing when-- petrified Americans see though his plan to end Medicare-- he insists Republicans don't want to ration Medicare. But the CBO warns that higher payments could affect care as beneficiaries might be less likely to use new, costly, but possibly beneficial, technologies and techniques-- "free market rationing," pure and simple. Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledges Ryan's plan would end Medicare.
The plan would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a program that directly pays those bills. Mr. Ryan and other conservatives say this is necessary because of the program's soaring costs.
Ryan sounded so sincere and earnest when he said we cannot "keep raising the debt" but his budget increases the national debt $8 trillion over the next ten years, primarily by slashing already historically low tax rates on the wealthiest families. The CBO says Ryan's budget, despite his protestations, would increase the national debut by 70%-- Bush economics on steroids! And like Bush did-- falsely if you'll recall-- Ryan claims his voodoo economics creates jobs (through trickle down). Yesterday he sounded reasonable (on the surface) saying "We don't want to slow down the economy. Here's what we are trying to get: spending cuts and controls to get spending under control, because that is the problem, and economic growth and job creation. We don't want to give up one to get the other." But economists were aghast listening to his deceptions. Even Mark Zandi of Moody's, a conservative economist who worked for McCain's presidential campaign as an economic advisor, admits Ryan's proposal would result in 1.7 million fewer jobs, including 900,000 next year, than is the case under Obama's budget. The NY Times editorial board asks a simple, pointed question, for whom does Ryan's budget a road to prosperity? They point out that for most Americans Ryan's proposal is a road to ruin.
The plan would condemn millions to the ranks of the uninsured, raise health costs for seniors and renege on the obligation to keep poor children fed. It envisions lower taxes for the wealthy than even George W. Bush imagined: a permanent extension for his tax cuts, plus large permanent estate-tax cuts, a new business tax cut and a lower top income tax rate for the richest taxpayers.
Compared to current projections, spending on government programs would be cut by $4.3 trillion over 10 years, while tax revenues would go down by $4.2 trillion. So spending would be eviscerated, mainly to make room for continued tax cuts.
The deficit would be smaller, but at an unacceptable cost. Health care would be hardest hit, followed by nonsecurity discretionary spending-- the sliver of the budget that encompasses annually appropriated programs. Those include education, scientific research, environmental preservation, investor protection, disease control, food safety, federal law enforcement and other areas that bear directly on the quality of Americans’ daily lives. The proposed cuts in such programs are $923 billion deeper than President Obama called for in his 2012 budget, which pushed the edge of what is politically possible.
Another big cut-- $715 billion over 10 years-- comes from mandatory spending other than Social Security and the big health care programs, a category that includes food stamps and federal retirement.
The blueprint does not call for any specific changes to Social Security, but, without explanation, it assumes a reduction of $1 trillion over 10 years in the program’s surplus. That would weaken the program by hastening the insolvency of Social Security.
When he unveiled this plan, Paul Ryan, a Republican of Wisconsin and the chairman of the House Budget Committee, declared, “This isn’t a budget. This is a cause.”
There is much truth in that. The blueprint is not a serious deficit reduction exercise for many reasons, the most important of which is that serious deficit reduction requires everything to be on the table, including tax increases. The plan released at the end of last year by the Obama deficit commission was one-third tax increases and two-thirds spending cuts. President Obama’s budget calls for a mix of tax cuts and tax increases, among the latter, letting high-end Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. The Republican plan calls only for tax simplification. It would get rid of loopholes and reduce rates in a way that would not raise overall revenues but would invariably cut the tax bill of wealthy taxpayers for whom lower rates are more valuable than assorted loopholes.
The deficit is a serious problem, but the Ryan plan is not a serious answer. With its tax cuts above all, and spending cuts no matter the consequences, it is a recipe for more loud talk about the deficit but no real action.
Meanwhile, back in the district, the media presents Ryan like the sun god and the DCCC seems to have found a little-known self-funder with modest chances to beat him. Some things never change. Blue America is attempting to recruit a viable candidate and to let southeast Wisconsin voters know what Paul Ryan is really up to. We'll be unveiling our billboard campaign asap.
UPDATE: The Wisconsin Democratic Party Professes More Faith In Rob Zerban Than I Do-- But They Know Him And I Don't
I was talking with someone from the Wisconsin Democratic Party on the phone yesterday and he swore I was all wrong about Zerban just being another DCCC shill whose only function is to make sure Ryan doesn't get a serious challenge. (That was the DCCC's function between 1996 and 2010 so pardon me if I'm sounding a little cynical.) He said Zerban gave a powerful speech in Janesville over the weekend at the first district Democratic Party. It was his maiden campaign speech. What do you think?
Here's the press release that went out with it:
As insurance industry advocate Paul Ryan on Monday began listening sessions to discuss his radical budget plans, Democratic challenger Rob Zerban this weekend assailed the Ryan plan to end Medicare.
"It's not that Paul Ryan doesn't want government or Medicare to work. It's that Paul Ryan wants government and Medicare to work for Big Business," Zerban said, citing the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Ryan has received from health care industry groups.