‘THIS IS A CAUSE’…. The political world will mull over the details of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) radical budget for months, but as the debate gets underway, it’s worth stepping back and appreciating the nature of the discussion.

At the surface, this would appear to be a debate about deficit and debt reduction. After a decade of Republican recklessness, the United States has found itself in a deep fiscal hole, and Ryan’s “roadmap” is ostensibly about getting the nation’s finances in order, putting us on a sustainable path.

Except, of course, that’s ridiculous given the plan itself. This has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility, and everything to do with an ideological crusade. Ryan and his backers don’t want to shrink the deficit; they want to shrink government.

Indeed, yesterday, Ryan declared, “This isn’t a budget. This is a cause.” It’s perhaps the only thing he said yesterday that actually made sense.

Think about this for a minute — if the goal of a budget plan is deficit reduction, it would presumably include some tax increases to help shrink the budget gap. Ryan’s plan cuts taxes, by a lot, which makes his alleged goal harder to reach.

The GOP plan would overhaul the tax codes for individuals and businesses. Aiming to promote economic growth, it would lower the top tax rates for individuals and corporations to 25%, from the current 35%. It also promises to reduce the number of individual tax brackets from six. […]

The White House charged the GOP plan “cuts taxes for millionaires.” Other Democratic critics warned it could mask potential tax increases for middle-class earners, for example from eliminating family tax breaks that higher earners don’t receive.

“You can make it revenue-neutral…but it’s going to come out of the hides of the middle class,” said Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress. “Once you start talking a 25% top rate, there’s no way you can make up for that” by scaling back tax breaks for wealthier taxpayers.

Why would anyone cut taxes while trying to reduce the deficit? They wouldn’t, unless deficit reduction wasn’t really the point.

Putting this in context, Ryan and the House GOP intend to impose significant hardship on the elderly, the disabled, low-income families, and the middle class. That’s bad. Republicans intend to take the savings and hand the money to the wealthy and corporations in the form of tax cuts. That’s worse.

The same GOP budget plan intends to free Wall Street of safeguards and gut environmental protections, not because this will improve the fiscal picture, but because Republican hate regulations. The plan is eager to gut spending across the board, but leave a massive Pentagon budget largely intact, which, again, would seem odd if the fiscal sales pitch were sincere.

The key takeaway, in other words, is understanding exactly what the “cause” is. Ryan wants to “repeal the 20th century,” shred the modern social contract, poke gaping holes in the safety net, and change the very nature of how Americans interact with their government — telling the public, “Good luck, you’re on your own.”

Those in the media who are gushing over this plan as if it has something to do with fiscal responsibility aren’t just wrong, they’re missing the point on a fundamental level.

It matters that this budget plan’s numbers don’t add up. It matters that it would hurt working families that need help, deliberately targeting low-income Americans. It matters that Medicare would no longer exist if this proposal was somehow approved.

But as the debate gets underway in earnest, what really matters is getting observers to understand what we’re fighting about. Congressional Republicans don’t care about the deficit; they care about shrinking government to a size in which they can drown it in the bathtub, satisfying an ideological dream.

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.