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Friday, December 9, 2016

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) latest budget proposal, which will be released on Tuesday, can be safely expected to follow his history of introducing legislation that includes steep cuts to safety-net programs to pay for increased defense funding and further tax cuts. But this year, his plan may be even more extreme.

In anticipation of Ryan’s upcoming budget – which will surely reflect his recent “War on Poverty” report – the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers a helpful preview of the 2012 vice-presidential nominee’s proposal, while examining the most serious flaws likely to plague the plan.

In his 2014 budget proposal, Ryan backed cuts to Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – the program colloquially known as food stamps – and called for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s benefits. According to the CBPP, these cuts, which accounted for 72 percent of the budget’s total program cuts, would have “resulted in large increases in poverty and deprived many millions of affordable health insurance.”

And CBPP economists Sharon Parrott and Joel Friedman warn that Ryan’s new budget will be “as extreme as last year’s, if not more so,” even as they predict that the targeted programs might differ a bit from those included in the 2014 budget.

Assuming Ryan’s budget will maintain last year’s goal of balancing within the next decade, reversing sequestration cuts through increased defense funding, and maintaining current revenue levels, massive cuts to assistance programs are the only ways Ryan could partially achieve his goals.

Again: partially achieve. That is because the Congressional Budget Office deficit forecast, as CBPP points out, has worsened by an additional $1 trillion by 2024. If Ryan hopes to achieve any of his goals, he must first ensure that his proposed cuts meet the heightened inflation rates. Even the suggested cuts in his 2014 proposal cannot account for the projected inflation levels of 2024, which means that Ryan’s new budget must include additional hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts that are steeper than those in last year’s budget.

Imagining a budget, even one designed by Ryan, that includes more severe cuts to anti-poverty programs than those in the 2014 GOP-backed proposal is rather difficult. Considering that he avoids cuts to Medicare and Social Security altogether, it almost seems impossible.

That may explain why Ryan’s past budget proposals have been rather light on specifics, and why this year’s budget proposal will be similarly vague. He is going to have a tough time explaining politically palatable ways of actually achieving the cuts he calls for. After all, doing so would force him to address the consequences of the actual reductions.

As the CBPP notes, enacting Ryan’s 2014 budget would have resulted in increased rates of uninsured low- and middle-class Americans, 8 to 9 million more people forced off food stamp rolls, a $163 billion cut to civil service pensions and farm programs, and an additional $660 billion cut to other non-defense discretionary programs – many of which offer assistance to the poor and disabled. Expect more of the same in this week’s plan.

And while ordinary Americans suffer the wrath of Ryan’s budget proposal, wealthy Americans continue to prosper, due in no small part to his “dynamic scoring,” which posits that tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate economic growth, which will then reduce the deficit. The primary problem with this idea is that no evidence exists to support a direct correlation between massive tax cuts and deficit reduction or economic growth.

If Ryan follows the basic outline of his 2014 plan, then his 2015 budget will surely be more severe. That is, of course, assuming that he accounts for the changing inflation rates. In the case that this budget disregards the CBO’s projections, however, his 2015 budget will represent little more than an outdated and unreasonable approach to maintaining current revenue levels and reversing sequestration cuts in defense funding. In either case, the American people lose.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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