(From the print edition)
By naming Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan to the Republican presidential ticket, Mitt Romney offered Democrats an opportunity to reject demagoguery and engage in a serious intellectual debate about the future.
Or so says conventional media wisdom. To this point, however, no such luck. The path of least political resistance, it seems, is to scaremonger the electorate with half-truths and outright lies. Mitt Romney might be running on his own budget—though he has embraced many of the components of the Ryan plan—but that hasn’t stopped Democrats.
1. No, the Ryan budget isn’t extreme
Jim Messina, President Obama’s campaign manager, who, among countless partisans has probably never actually read Ryan’s budgets, calls his plans “radical.”
A common distortion was forwarded by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who not only claims that Ryan’s budget “would kill people, no question,” but that Ryan’s plan would “cut discretionary spending to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge.” Life under Calvin Coolidge–high growth, low taxation and peace–is nothing to sneeze at, but Ryan’s plan, alas, would only bring non-military discretionary spending back to 2008 levels. It would cut subsidies and federal bureaucracy by 10 percent and reform compensation plans of federal employees.
Now, if we’re talking about discretionary spending as a percentage of the entire budget, you don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner to see that Krugman has a point—though, an equally misleading one. Since mandatory spending has grown at almost six times the pace of discretionary spending over the past 20 years, one could easily argue that Obama will keep discretionary spending at levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge. Or, in this president’s case, it might be more apt to mention Herbert Hoover.
Many conservatives believe Ryan’s budget is too tepid as it doesn’t balance the budget for over a decade. The plan only reduces spending from the current 24 percent to 19.8 percent of GDP. As economists have pointed out, this would bring federal expenditures down to the average of post-WWII levels. In the Ryan budget, federal spending increases every year during the next 10, and revenue rises every year afterwards. The budget expands from $3.6 trillion in 2013 to $4.9 trillion in 2022—a trajectory which can be considered an extreme “cut” only in Washington.
2. No, his plan doesn’t favor the rich
What would a day of campaigning be without some class envy? Messina also claims Romney had “chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment” to a “new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy…”
Flawed theory or not, there are no special tax cuts in the Ryan budget “for the wealthy.” Any time Washington enacts across-the-board tax reform or growth policies, the rich (who pay most income taxes) are likely to benefit. Ryan’s plan, though, only extends tax revenues we’ve had for the past decade—the ones, in fact, that Barack Obama supported to extend in 2010.
What Ryan’s plan does is reform the current six-strata tax-rate system into two, a 10 percent rate and a 25 percent rate. It fixes the Alternative Minimum Tax (which Democrats support) and cuts corporate taxes rates (which Obama has said he’d be willing to entertain) to reflect rates used by competitive nations. To keep revenues stable Ryan (and Romney) have proposed closing loopholes (disproportionately used by wealthy Americans).
3. No, Ryan’s plan does not destroy Medicare
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a representative of the hyperventilating wing of the Democratic Party, recently claimed that Romney and Ryan partnership was a “nightmare for seniors who’ve earned their Medicare benefits. For the last 18 months, we’ve said Republicans will have to defend the indefensible—their vote to end Medicare.” Messina says that the duo would end “Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system.” And Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has been running around from one media outlet to the next casually claiming that Ryan’s plan would destroy Medicare for today’s seniors.
No, no and no. The Wyden-Ryan Medicare plan—co-authored by a liberal Democrat—wouldn’t affect anyone over 55. Seniors who’ve earned their Medicare benefits would not see a change, and those under 55 would not have to ever see a change either—unless they voluntarily took part in a more competitive plan. Even then, Washington would pay premiums as you made choices, which, if you believe in the basics of free market economics, would bring down prices and improve service.
Moreover, the liberal Urban Institute recently found that the average citizen will pay $149,000 in Medicare taxes but take out $351,000 in medical services during retirement. So it seems that in reality, the party unwilling to reform a program before it reaches the point of unsustainability is the one acting as the agent of its destruction.
4. No, he’s not at war with women
The phony “war on women” attack is a vital part of any left-wing campaign against social conservatives. Democratic congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania says that Ryan “believes we should ban all birth control as well. He voted for that.” Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says that Ryan “supported the ‘Let Women Die Bill,’ which would allow hospitals to refuse to provide a woman emergency, lifesaving abortion care, even if she could die without it.”
Naturally, Ryan has never voted for anything resembling those accusations. He did vote for the “Protect Life Act,” which would have rewritten provisions in Obamacare to prohibit federal subsidies for abortion—something liberals claim is already codified in law–and insure that Catholic hospitals would not have to chip in for abortions. He also supported a bill that would have dulled the HHS Mandate that Catholic hospitals provide free condoms.
5. No, he’s not a congressional obstructionist
According to Gallup, Congress’ approval rating hit an all-time low recently. The president, trying to exploit this sentiment, blames gridlock on GOP-led Congress—featuring Ryan. Is it fair? Hardly. The House has passed dozens of bills that focus on economic recovery. And a reminder: Obama’s supposedly serious budget proposal was rejected by everyone in both the House and Senate. While Ryan’s budget passed the House with a 228-191 vote.
The president went a bit overboard, in fact, in a stop in Iowa last week, saying: “So, if you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities. It’s time to put politics aside and pass it right away.” The House of Representatives had already passed a stop-gap measure to help drought-ridden farmers. In fact, the House has passed a budget, while a Harry Reid-led Senate hasn’t passed one in over three years.
These are but a few examples of the mendacity surrounding Ryan’s record. The media has ratcheted up the harsh tone all around—either by misrepresenting Ryan’s positions or just insulting him. Take one-time political journalist Charles Pierce, now with Esquire, who called the presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate, “The zombie eyed granny-starver, Paul Ryan, Pericles Of Janesville.” (In the Urban dictionary—the definitive source on all nonsense—none of the three definitions for “zombie eyed” seem to work for Ryan.) Or read Erika Christaki, writing the “Ideas” section for Time magazine, who says that Ryan’s budget is un-Christian. Jesus, she points out, would as “best as we can tell” support a 50 percent tax rate—maybe even higher.
We will leave guesswork on Jesus’ preferred top marginal tax rates to the brighter minds and theologians at Time magazine, because, when it comes to Ryan, there an abundance of easily disproven falsehood to tackle right here on Earth.