After a rough few weeks, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is hoping a public-relations offensive will help get his agenda back on track. The effort includes media appearances, op-eds, and as of yesterday afternoon, a luncheon speech to the Chicago Economic Club decrying “class warfare.”
So, how’d it go? Put it this way: if Ryan is hoping to turn things around, he might need a Plan C.
Though billed as an effort to revamp his widely criticized budget, Ryan avoided describing his health care plans in specific detail, eschewing even the friendly terms he and other Republicans have used to explain it since he first unveiled it earlier this year. Instead, Ryan reframed the entitlement cuts in his budget as “strengthen[ing] welfare for those who need it,” and accused Democrats who have attacked his budget as engaging in class warfare.
The House budget would phase out the existing Medicare program and replace it with a new program to provide future retirees with private insurance subsidies, which would shrink in value over time relative to steeply rising health care costs…. Ryan characterized this distinction differently.
“If I could sum up that disagreement in a couple of sentences, I would say this: Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers. Their plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors,” he said, according to prepared remarks.
Substantively, Ryan’s argument is just wrong. Politically, the argument still won’t make Medicare privatization any more popular, and trying to reframe Medicare itself as “welfare” — a word Americans have been trained to reflexively dislike — is a losing proposition anyway. For that matter, the fact that the Budget Committee chairman refused to go into any detail in defending his Medicare plan on the merits suggests even he’s prepared to see privatization whither on the vine.
The rest of Ryan’s case wasn’t much better. For example, the right-wing Wisconsinite is convinced, based on his bizarre approach to monetary policy, that the improvements in economic growth and job creation over the last two years are actually bad news
What’s more, Ryan rejected the “mentality” that leads the left and right to compromise on debt-reduction plans. As Jon Chait explained, Ryan sees the larger dynamic this way: “Reducing the deficit is nice, but growth is what really matters, and that relies upon low upper-bracket tax rates. Ryan likewise adopts the Norquistian claim that bipartisan budget deals are bad because the tax hikes happen but the spending cuts don’t. (The belief is demonstrably false, but never mind.) He’s putatively arguing against Obama, but the real target seems to be a bipartisan deal that many GOP senators seem to want to cut.”
Ultimately, though, Ryan’s larger pitch more or less sounded like warmed-over palaver from a far-right politician who forces his staff to read Ayn Rand novels (which he actually does).
“Chasing ever-higher spending with ever-higher tax rates will decrease the number of makers in society and increase the number of takers,” he said. “Able-bodied Americans will be discouraged from working and lulled into lives of complacency and dependency.”
Ryan repeatedly referenced class warfare, painting a vision of a future where “governing elites” and “unelected bureaucrats” make decisions for ordinary people.
“If we succumb to this view that our problems are bigger than we are — if we surrender more control over our economy to the governing class — then we are choosing shared scarcity over renewed prosperity, and managed decline over economic growth,” he said. “That’s the real class warfare that threatens us — a class of governing elites picking winners and losers, and determining our destinies for us.”
All of this is more tiresome than offensive. One could note that the “real class warfare” is Ryan’s effort to shift burdens onto the poor and the middle class, while cutting taxes on the rich and corporations, in a radical/regressive redistribution scheme, but there’s probably no point.
Ryan is flailing and he knows it.