A welcome walkback

A WELCOME WALKBACK…. A couple of weeks ago, Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg took an unexpected, counter-intuitive path, suggesting that liberals consider embracing Paul Ryan’s radical GOP budget plan.

Since I was one of many who argued that Weisberg was very wrong, it’s only fair to note that he’s reevaluated his position.

After my last column, I got pummeled in the liberal blogosphere for asserting that the Ryan budget represented a big step in the direction of conservative honesty. I deserved some of the abuse. Though I criticized Ryan for his unsupported rosy assumptions (shame on you, Heritage Foundation hacks), I reacted too quickly and didn’t sort out just how laughable Ryan’s long-term spending projections were. His plan projects an absurd future, according to the Congressional Budget Office, in which all discretionary spending, now around 12 percent of GDP, shrinks to 3 percent of GDP by 2050. Defense spending alone was 4.7 percent of GDP in 2009. With numbers like that, Ryan is more an anarchist-libertarian than honest conservative.

That’s good to see. Paul Krugman has a less charitable response to Weisberg, but I won’t quibble. If Weisberg now realizes the Ryan plan is a fraud, I’ll take it.

There is, however, one small problem. The Slate editor goes on to offer some praise for Ryan anyway, noting, “I think I was right in crediting Ryan with owning up to what other Republicans won’t: that the party’s demand for ever-lower taxes would basically end Medicaid and Medicare as entitlement programs.”

Jon Chait argues that gives Ryan a little more credit than he deserves.

Continuing the Republican practice of denying any connections between revenues and deficits, he refuses to concede that the spending levels he proposes are in any way constrained by his preference for staying at or below Bush-level tax rates. […]

He paints the debt as an existential crisis, but refuses to acknowledge any tradeoff between the tax rates he prefers and the affordable level of social spending. And rather than acknowledge that he would end Medicare and Medicaid as entitlement programs, he insists against all evidence that free market forces will make the programs stronger than ever.

Well, sure, but other than that, it’s good to see Weisberg come around.