When the voice of reason isn’t at all reasonable

WHEN THE VOICE OF REASON ISN’T AT ALL REASONABLE…. Every day, the media establishment looks to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as a credible, responsible voice on fiscal issues. And every day, I marvel at the establishment’s inability to see Ryan for what he is.

This week, for example, the far-right Wisconsin lawmaker told NRP that President Obama’s budget would lead to $1.6 trillion in new tax increases, $ 8.7 trillion in new spending, and would add “$13 trillion to the debt over the course of his budget.”

In reality, Ryan’s numbers aren’t even close to being accurate.

In response to a question about how this number was obtained, the Committee staff provided a chart that showed that outlays would be frozen every year for the next 10 years at the 2012 level of $3.729 trillion.

Thus, while in 2021 Obama proposes to spend $5.697 trillion, the Committee would still be spending $3.729 trillion, for a difference of almost $2 trillion. Add up the difference for every year, over 10 years, and it amounts to nearly $8.7 trillion, which the committee calls “new spending.”

In other words, the Committee assumed the president needs to freeze all spending, without adjustments for inflation or population growth, for 10 years. Moreover, it makes this assumption for all spending, even mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which need to be changed by law.

Jamelle Bouie added, “So, Ryan takes Obama’s budget, freezes spending at 2012 levels for 10 years — so that federal spending falls to an all-time low of 15.1 percent of GDP — sets that as the new baseline, and then counts everything above as “new spending,” even when it’s nothing new, and simply an automatic part of the budget, by way of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. At the very least, this is stunningly dishonest.”

Now, I suppose it’s possible the House Budget Committee chairman is painfully ignorant about his own budget figures, and spews fiscal gibberish in national broadcasts because he’s a fool, but (a) I’m not sure that’s much of a defense; and (b) given all the work Ryan’s invested in this, I’m inclined to believe he’s simply lying, hoping reporters and the public won’t know the difference.

What’s more, Jon Chait notes budget criticism Ryan offered the next day, which was every bit as ridiculous. Among other things, Ryan argued more revenue would be bad for the deficit, and blasted Obama for not sticking to a deficit commission’s recommendation that Ryan himself opposed.

What more will it take for the political establishment to recognize this guy as a crank?

Greg Sargent takes a stab at the answer.

As for Chait’s broader question — why commentators confer automatic credibility on Ryan as a “fiscal hawk” — I’d say this is akin to asking why they keep arbitrarily designating lawmakers who embrace entitlement cuts and tax cuts for the rich as hard-headed “centrists,” when only small minorities support both, and why they arbitrarily refuse to allow that calling for tax hikes on the rich is a sign of fiscal seriousness.

I think the explanation is pretty simple. The term “deficit hawk,” as it’s commonly used in Washington, simply doesn’t mean “someone who fully committed to reducing the deficit by any means necessary, tax hikes included.” Rather, it means “someone who is fully committed to reducing the deficit through tax cuts, entitlement reform and frequent expressions of general hostility towards government.” It has been arbitrarily decided that tax hikes on the rich carry an aura of big government liberal squishiness and hence can’t be associated with whatever people think they mean by the word “hawk.” Shifting the tax burden upwards is “soft,” the stuff of bleeding hearts. Shifting it down is “hard” and “tough.”

The arbitrary meaning of “deficit hawk,” just like the arbitrary meaning of “centrist,” has been hardened through repetition. People hear others using these terms this way, and they repeat them. Others hear them doing this, and they also repeat it. And so on.

I suspect this is entirely right, but it doesn’t make the phenomenon any less ridiculous.

To consider Ryan, who forces his aides to read Ayn Rand novels, “sensible” is to strip the word of any meaning. The guy, when he isn’t making up numbers, is presenting proposals so radical, it’s hard to imagine why he isn’t just laughed out of the room.

Jamison Foser recently explained, “Ryan produced a budget proposal that would take about 50 years to balance the budget — except that it wouldn’t do so even then, as Ryan told CBO to base its assessment of the budget on the assumption that tax revenues would remain the same, even though the budget included costly tax cuts.”

Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint is a right-wing fantasy — slashing taxes on the rich while raising taxes for everyone else. The plan calls for privatizing Social Security and gutting Medicare, and yet fails miserably in its intended goal — cutting the deficit. As Paul Krugman recently explained, the Ryan plan “is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.”

But don’t tell his adoring fans in the political establishment. They don’t want to hear it.