Paul Ryan: The Better-Packaged Huckster Of A Dismally Failed Austerity Agenda
Despite the blandishments of a worshipful Beltway media, Paul Ryan isn't really an "ideas man." Not even remotely. Like Trump, he's more a marketing man, a more routine one than Trump, but someone who could have been a mid-level executive at a Madison Avenue public relations firm. In a grey suit. #BetterWay seems to thrill the imbecile Republican congressmen who tweet it, but it does nothing for the men and women worried about the hard realities of healthcare, jobs, retirement security...
His big idea has always been just packaging for the GOP's claptrap about preventing the government from taking rich people's money. Ryan's intellectual growth was stunted soon after reading his first Ayn Rand novella, Atlas Shrugged, which thrilled his adolescent heart. Last month, Ian Millhiser's essay on Ryan for ThinkProgress, The Most Overrated Intellect In Washington, clarified the banality of the Ryan mind and his shiny old #BetterWay package of right-wing values. Yes, Ryan's not as dumb as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck... but that's kind of a low bar, although it allowed the personable and soft-spoken Ryan, "capable of stringing together numbers in a way that sounds impressive" to come off like a relative "beacon of light... [H]e soon milked his own novelty-- a tea partier! who is also a policy wonk!-- to become the toast of the political commentariat," which soon started tossing around words like "big thinker," "philosopher prince," "wonk..." But nothing much had changed in the essential Paul Ryan-- frat boy, Oscar Mayer wienermobile driver, Tortilla Coast waiter and fitness trainer at the Washington Sport and Health Club-- since he was recruited by some rich old rightists who liked his packaging-- and his ideas about privatizing Social Security.
But Speaker Ryan’s reputation for wonkitude is not deserved. Indeed, his proposals typical follow a familiar pattern-- a pattern Ryan repeated on Wednesday with a package of health reforms Jonathan Cohn and Jeffrey Young described as a plan to “replace 20 million people’s health insurance with 37 pages of talking points.” Ryan offers sweeping, ambitious ideas that would radically transform the fundamentals of America’s social contract. Then, when genuine policy wonks point out that Ryan’s numbers don’t add up, or that his ideas would have absurd consequences, Ryan often responds with a new proposal that is just like the first-- only vaguer.
If details enable Ryan’s opponents to discredit his ideas, then Ryan defends himself by refusing to offer details. As Tara Culp-Ressler notes, Ryan’s latest set of health care proposals “doesn’t include information about exactly how many people would be covered, exactly how much the proposal would cost, or exactly how much assistance Americans would receive in the form of tax credits to help them buy insurance.”
Paul Ryan’s ambition, in other words, is matched only by his innumeracy. He builds cathedrals to dyscalculia, and fills them with a worshipful press corps. But his is a false faith, resting upon ideas that do not withstand scrutiny.
...One of the most overlitigated questions in American politics is how to fairly describe Ryan’s [Medicare] proposal. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee initially described Ryan’s Medicare plan as a proposal to “end Medicare,” a claim that was savaged by credulous fact checking organizations. Politifact even labeled claims that Republicans who supported Ryan’s Medicare plan “voted to end Medicare” its 2011 “lie of the year.” Eventually, many Democrats settled on the mealy mouthed phrase “end Medicare as we know it” to describe Ryan’s plan.
But Politifact’s 2011 “lie of the year” was entirely true. Ryan’s proposal-- or, at least, the version of the proposal that existed in 2011, didn’t just end Medicare as we know it, it would have ended Medicare. Period.
The core of Ryan’s Medicare proposal is a plan to eliminate traditional Medicare, a government-run health insurance program for seniors, and replace it with a voucher that seniors can use to help purchase a private health plan. Though Ryan’s proposal would have delayed implementation of the plan by 10 years, the immediate impact of the plan, once it did take effect, would have been to massively increase out-of-pocket costs for American seniors:
Then, it gets worse for retirees. Although Ryan’s vouchers would gain value in absolute dollars over time, his 2011 proposal provided that they would gain value more slowly than the rate of health inflation — thus, they would cover less and less of a retirees’ insurance premiums with each passing year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, “by 2080, Medicare would be cut 76 percent below its projected size under current policies.” Thus, a child born in 2015 would receive less than one-quarter of the resources provided to today’s seniors when that child became eligible for Medicare.
So, while Ryan wouldn’t have ended Medicare in the sense that he would have simply snapped his fingers and made every American senior’s health care go away, his proposal was designed to gradually phase out the program over time.
When this proposal was released, many of Ryan’s opponents assumed that Ryan offered a plan that would slowly eliminate Medicare because his goal was to eliminate Medicare. In 2012, however, Ryan released a new budget proposal that made a significant concession to his critics. The 2012 plan included deep cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and other programs intended to serve the least fortunate, and it retained the overall structure of Ryan’s proposal to voucherize Medicare, but it also provided that the value of these vouchers would keep up with health inflation.
Only Paul Ryan can know whether he decided to make this shift because his 2011 proposal proved too unpopular or because he genuinely did not realize that his plan would phase out Medicare until real health policy wonks pointed this fact out to him. There is one piece of recent evidence which suggests that the later theory may be true, however-- the package of health reforms Ryan announced on Wednesday.
Meet The New Better Way, Same As The Old Better Way
Ryan’s latest package of health care proposals is part of a broader set of ideas the speaker has packaged under the label “A Better Way: Our Vision For A Confident America.” Ryan’s vision for a confident America, however, looks a whole lot like the McCain-Palin 2008 vision for a confident America in many of its particulars. And the ideas that are not recycled from the McCain-Palin campaign are largely recycled from Ryan’s own past proposals-- although with few details and fewer, if any, actual numbers.
A Better Way retains Ryan’s plan to voucherize Medicare, although it is very insistent that the plan should be described as a “premium support” program and “not a voucher program.” For what it’s worth, a Better Way also appears to reject the 2011 proposal to phase out Medicare. Now Ryan says that the value of the voucher should be determined “based on the average bid of participating plans.”
Yet, while A Better Way does not call for Medicare to be phased away into nothingness, it utilizes a structure similar to Ryan’s 2011 Medicare phase-out elsewhere in its proposals.
Borrowing an idea from the McCain-Palin health plan in 2008, A Better Way replaces the network of tax credits and regulations enacted by the Affordable Care Act with a tax subsidy that can be used to help purchase health insurance. Like Ryan’s 2011 vouchers, however, it does not appear that this subsidy will keep up with health inflation. “Obamacare’s credits are tied to health care premiums,” Ryan complains in the paper laying out his latest health proposals. His plan, by contrast, “provides a fixed amount grown over time.” Though Ryan is not specific about how much this “fixed amount” will grow each year, the fact that its value is not “tied to health care premiums” suggests that it will lose real value in the same way as his 2011 vouchers.
So far the most remarkable thing about Ryan's tenure as Speaker has been how good he's made John Boehner's failed speakership look in retrospect. Ryan has been incapable of passing a budget-- his supposed specialty-- and can't get even basic ideas and programs through his own fractious, hate-driven, dysfunctional caucus, let alone any of his so-called "big ideas."
Labels: Paul Ryan