Fevered Imaginings

FEVERED IMAGININGS….Republican congressman Paul Ryan has gotten a bit of blogospheric attention lately for his claim that Democrats are being bullied into opposing his plan to privatize Social Security:

“We were in planning stages [with friendly Democrats],” said Ryan. But each essentially told him: “I like what you’re doing. I like this bill. I think it’s the right way to go. But my party leadership will break my back. The retribution that they are promising us is as great as I have ever seen. We can’t do it.”

Wow. Is the Democratic leadership really playing that rough? Permit me to express some doubts.

Far more likely is either (a) Ryan is making this up, or (b) the people he’s talking about were doing the same thing we all do when we get collared by a street person: mumbling something soothing and then making a quick getaway.

Here’s the thing: I find it highly unlikely that there are any Democrats anywhere in Congress who think Ryan’s approach is “the right way to go.” Here are the key features of how Ryan proposes to fund his Social Security privatization plan:

  • His bill mandates a forced slowdown in federal spending. The difference between what we spend under the Ryan plan and what we would have spent without it is then counted as “extra” revenue, which is transferred from the general fund to Social Security. The consistent failure of such plans in the past is not grappled with.

  • His bill assumes that private accounts will boost the economy, thus boosting corporate earnings, and thus boosting corporate tax payments. The amount of this “extra” tax revenue would be transferred from the general fund to Social Security.

In other words, after you get though all the gobbledegook explanations, the bottom line is that his scheme pays for privatization by sucking up money from the general fund. In the year 2010, for example, $173 billion would be transferred from the general fund to Social Security. But when you add the gobbledegook back in, the whole thing is free!

You will be unsurprised to learn that this plan is endorsed by the crackpots at the Club for Growth and USA Next, and is based on the keen economic insights of former Senator Phil Gramm. It is the ultimate in fairy dust inspired free lunch economics.

So: are Democratic leaders in the House really staying up nights worried that some of their backbenchers might bolt party lines and support Ryan’s plan? I’m guessing not. Conversely, is it possible that Ryan’s fevered imagination has caused him to invent a tidal wave of support where none exists? That seems distinctly more likely.

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