Deliberately Dumb With Numbers

If you think Republicans are able to play games by pretending not to understand “current services budgeting” when it comes to annual appropriations, it’s nothing compared to the compounding of feigned stupidity they display in long-term budgets.

Even that notorious genius and wonk Paul Ryan resorts to this device in justifying his new budget today at the Wall Street Journal:

Our opponents will shout austerity, but let’s put this in perspective. On the current path, we’ll spend $46 trillion over the next 10 years. Under our proposal, we’ll spend $41 trillion. On the current path, spending will increase by 5% each year. Under our proposal, it will increase by 3.4%. Because the U.S. economy will grow faster than spending, the budget will balance by 2023, and debt held by the public will drop to just over half the size of the economy.

Put aside, if you can, the suspect nature of Ryan’s arithmetic, and its projections of a balanced budget. Even if they are sound, he’s by implication using the old Gingrichian chesnut of describing budget cuts as “reductions in spending increases,” which nobody but a socialist could possibly object to, right? (Well, maybe someone who is aware of inflation and population growth, but never mind!). And he’s also not drawing attention to the fact that these cuts are not distributed evenly throughout the budget, to put it mildly. As in prior Ryan budgets, this one hammers Medicaid and other low-income programs with especially loud blows. For one thing, as Ezra Klein noted this morning, the highly respected Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that up to 35 million Americans would lose health insurance under Ryan’s proposal–as adopted by the Romney-Ryan campaign last year–to repeal Obamacare and block-grant Medicaid. Tell those 35 million people it’s “not a cut,” but just a reduced increase!

This sort of game-playing is tiresome, in part because of the hypocrisy Ryan exhibits when he simultaneously tries to claim he’s just giving the welfare state a light trim, but also claims he wants to liberate Americans benefitting from programs like Medicaid and SNAP from the slavery of dependence. Get loud and proud, congressman! It takes a big, sharp ax to break those chains! Own it!

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.