Highway to Hell

HIGHWAY TO HELL…. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, recently unveiled what he described as a budget “roadmap,” intended to address the budget mess his own party had created during the Bush/Cheney era. Ryan’s blueprint immediately became a political hot potato that Republicans liked but were reluctant to hold on to — the roadmap, after all, would eliminate Social Security and privatize Medicare.

Policy experts have since had a chance to scrutinize Ryan’s plan in detail. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained today, the roadmap “calls for radical policy changes that would result in a massive transfer of resources from the broad majority of Americans to the nation’s wealthiest individuals.”

The Roadmap would give the most affluent households a new round of very large, costly tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan would replace these health programs with a system of vouchers whose value would erode over time and thus would purchase health insurance that would cover fewer health care services as the years went by.

An analysis by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center found that the richest 1% of Americans — those making more than $633,000 a year — would find their tax burden cut in half in 2014. The more one makes, the bigger the cut — millionaires who Republicans have already taken good care of would find their taxes cut even more dramatically, by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

To make up the difference, we’d all have to pay a new consumption tax on goods and services. On the whole, the tax burden would shift dramatically from the wealthy to the middle class.

And best of all, even with new taxes on the middle class, and the massive cuts to Medicare and Social Security, Ryan’s roadmap still wouldn’t balance the budget for a very long time.

It’s a rather breathtaking vision of how the government should operate in the 21st century. The roadmap offers directions to a system that makes it even easier for the very wealthy, even harder on the middle class, and all but eliminates bedrock societal programs. It raises taxes on 90% of the public without managing to close the budget gap, a feat that hardly seems possible.

Remember how radical the Gingrich/Dole agenda seemed after the ’94 takeover? This is like that agenda on steroids — with a crack chaser.

Best of all, don’t forget the punch-line: if Republicans reclaim the House majority next year, Paul Ryan will be the chairman of the House Budget Committee, directly responsible for helping write the federal budget.

I can’t wait to see just how many congressional Republicans endorse Ryan’s roadmap in advance of the midterm elections. It looks bleak for Democrats now, but the radical nature of Ryan’s scheme offers Dems a chance to go on the offensive.