Come for the radicalism, stay for the fuzzy math

COME FOR THE RADICALISM, STAY FOR THE FUZZY MATH…. When it comes to describing Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget plan, my first instinct is to emphasize its breathtaking radicalism. There’s just no modern precedent for an effort like this.

But to stop there would be a mistake.

To be sure, the GOP plan is as extreme as anything that a major-party caucus has proposed in generations. If passed it would fundamentally change how Americans interact with their government; place new burdens on seniors, the disabled, low-income children, and working families, while directing even more resources to the wealthy and powerful; and make regressive changes to the nation’s social contract.

But Paul Krugman raises a related-but-different concern, which is just as important.

People like me don’t say that the Ryan plan is too radical; we say that it’s a fraud. The spending cuts are largely fake, either because they’re just magic asterisks or because they wouldn’t survive politically; the revenue estimates are fake, because they combine huge tax cuts with vague assurances that extra revenue will be found by closing loopholes. There’s no there there — except for big tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor.

All I can think here is that reporters are so deep into the Beltway conventional wisdom that this is a Bold, Serious Plan that they just tune out the people saying that no, it’s not.

After noting a great John Cole item, Krugman added, “[N]o, I don’t think the plan goes too far. I think it’s disingenuous and fraudulent. And the reason I think that is that I have actually done the math.”

Sure, I agree with this, too. But isn’t there room for everyone on this train? Folks arguing that Ryan’s plan represents brutal, right-wing extremism, with needless cruelty and twisted values, can easily back up their concerns. Folks arguing that Ryan’s plan is arithmetically-challenged, with numbers that don’t add up, to be taken seriously only by those lacking access to calculators, are also entirely correct.

The good news is, we don’t really have to pick one or the other. Ryan’s plan is composed of bad ideas and ideas that don’t add up.

We can all get along.

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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.