Paul Ryan questions allies’ sophistication

PAUL RYAN QUESTIONS ALLIES’ SOPHISTICATION…. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told the Associated Press yesterday he’s working on a plan to cut entitlements — I can hardly wait — but in the meantime, he’s trying to get his caucus up to speed.

Republicans this week conceded that the government’s budget can’t be balanced this decade without cutting into current retirees’ Medicare and Social Security benefits, something they’ve indicated they’re unwilling to do. But many tea-party activists and junior lawmakers still believe the red ink can be reduced to zero with just a bit more pain, according to Ryan.

“They literally think you can just balance it, you know, (by cutting) waste, fraud and abuse, foreign aid and NPR (National Public Radio),” Ryan said. “And it doesn’t work like that.”

Yes, a few too many congressional Republicans don’t really understand what they’re talking about. Finally, Paul Ryan and I agree about something.

More important, though, is the process itself. The Budget Committee chair is under the impression that, once he explains the kind of cuts that are necessary, his party will be united in support of an agenda consistent with his radical “roadmap.”

But I’m wondering if he’s in for some disappointment. As Jon Chait noted, “Of course, Ryan takes it for granted that, when informed that serious deficit reduction requires cutting Medicare and Social Security, his GOP colleagues will decide to support cutting those programs. But isn’t it also possible they’ll decide they don’t really want to seriously cut the deficit?”

You bet it is. Ryan is under the impression that he’s Willie Sutton — he has to go where the money is. Putting aside the merits, if he’s sincere about his goal, that’s a reasonable approach to take. The GOP can cut every penny of foreign aid until the end of time — they shouldn’t, but they can — but there just aren’t enough resources there to balance the budget.

But the interesting part comes when Ryan’s caucus — the folks who think cutting “waste, fraud and abuse, foreign aid and NPR” should get the job done — comes to grips with what he’s saying. He’s going to ask them to (a) slash entitlement benefits; (b) fight a budget war with Democrats over this; and (c) invite the wrath of voters who are going to side with Dems.

What’s more, Ryan isn’t talking about a few tweaks around the edges. If his upcoming plan reflects his “roadmap,” the far-right Republicans intends to privatize Social Security, while gutting Medicare, turning it into a voucher system that doesn’t keep up with rising prices.

Ryan isn’t prepared to offer details just yet, but the AP report said he plans to offer a “politically explosive” plan.

The Republican majority will be on the line, a detail much of the caucus may not fully appreciate just yet.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

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.