IT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT HE THINKS IT MEANS…. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, has a reputation for knowing what he’s talking about. Keep that in mind when reading this exchange between Ryan and Sean Hannity last night:

HANNITY: You talk about the demonizing: This has become a mantra, tax cuts for the wealthy, Republicans don’t care about the poor. They’ve been very effective in their bumper stickers and slogans and propaganda. How do you convince people that this benefits everybody … when the Democrats are out there saying you don’t care about the poor, which I know is a lie. But what’s the answer?

RYAN: Well, look, what we’re proposing is we’re going to give taxpayers a choice. You can have the current tax code with all of its loopholes and bells and whistles, or if you want a simplified system that fits on a postcard, two rates, 10 percent and 25 percent. It’s progressive.

Now, we’ve joked over the years about the Republican drive to “create their own reality,” but let’s be clear: they’re not allowed to create their own dictionaries.

A “progressive” tax system has a certain meaning — to over-simplify a bit, those who have more, pay more. What Ryan has recommended isn’t “progressive” in the slightest, because it gives enormous breaks to the wealthy, while increasing the tax burden on everyone else. That’s the opposite of a “progressive” structure.

Maybe this is why the White House hasn’t had more productive policy discussions with congressional Republicans. They think a $21 billion increase in defense spending is a “cut“; they think a five-year spending freeze is stimulative; and their top budget guy thinks a regressive tax system is “progressive.”

It’s pretty tough to find common ground between sensible and nutty. When GOP officials wonder why they haven’t played a more substantive policy-making role, this should be a pretty big hint.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.