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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Over the past several months, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has attempted to rebrand himself from an austerity-obsessed weak link in Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign to the Republican Party’s foremost anti-poverty warrior (with limited success, at best).

But as Ryan’s latest “Path to Prosperity” budget plan makes clear, the House Budget Committee chairman’s priorities have not changed at all. Ryan is still committed to radically downsizing the government — and shafting the working Americans with whom he claims to empathize.

As in past years, Ryan’s plan is less of a budget and more of a “vision document.” (The Washington Post helpfully describes it as a “personal manifesto on government austerity from a man who has emerged as the GOP’s leading light on fiscal policy.”)

Among other proposals, the new Ryan plan once again suggests fully repealing the Affordable Care Act, converting Medicare into a block grant program for states (while aiming to privatize it in a decade), and slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for food stamps, federal welfare programs, FEMA, Pell Grants, and federal pensions, among many other cuts (the details of which he largely leaves to Congress to sort out). Overall, the budget would shear more than $5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade (for a more detailed breakdown of the cuts, see Time’s helpful overview here).

While Ryan calls for steep cuts to programs that benefit working and middle-class Americans, he once again declines to ask the military or the wealthiest Americans to bear significant costs. In fact, he actually proposes cutting the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans, from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Due to a combination of that unbalanced approach and the CBO’s revised deficit forecast, the former vice-presidential nominee failed to come up with enough cuts to balance the budget. Instead, Ryan promises that new revenue from “economic growth” will wipe out the deficit by 2024.

Like Ryan’s past plans, the 2015 budget displays a startlingly cruel worldview. It’s hard to justify, for example, stripping health insurance from millions of people in order to stave off an imminent debt crisis that — by Ryan’s own admission — doesn’t actually exist (indeed, we’re still waiting for budget scold Alan Simpson’s infamous debt bomb to detonate). Especially for a man who professes to view poverty as a genuine crisis.

It’s also politically unpalatable to an electorate that does not want to repeal Obamacare, and overwhelmingly opposes cuts to public education, Medicare, health insurance subsidies, and other programs that Ryan targets.

To be clear, Ryan’s budget has absolutely no chance of becoming law. Although House Republicans will be loath to vote for a bill containing such politically divisive measures — 10 members of the GOP majority voted against the 2014 Ryan plan (although, in fairness, at least four thought it was insufficiently extreme) — they will likely pass Ryan’s proposal for the fourth consecutive year. It will then die a swift death in the Senate.

Even though it will never be enacted, however, the plan from the GOP’s top budget expert provides a clear reminder of the Republican House majority’s priorities: Shrink the government (except for defense spending), refuse to raise even a penny of new revenue, and repeal Obamacare. Never mind the fact that the math doesn’t add up, and it will never actually be passed.

Ironically, just hours before Ryan announced his latest “vision document,” Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) — the last House Republican to offer a serious fiscal plan — announced his intention to retire at the end of this term. Weeks ago, Camp proposed a comprehensive tax reform plan that used actual numbers to propose actual changes to the system — and was instantly shunned by both parties for his trouble.

When Camp leaves Congress next year, his powerful position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to go to — you guessed it — Paul Ryan.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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