"It's not a budget. It's a cause," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wisconsin) when he introduced his so-called budget a few days ago. In that statement at least he was honest. Nothing else about his "budget" appears to be.
He claims that it will reduce the federal deficit over a 10-year period. In fact, every economist who has taken a serious look at the plan, including the economists at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, have said that is a lie. (They may have said it more politely than that, but their meaning is clear.)
This budget cum cause has as its clear aim the transfer of money from the poor and middle-class population to the wealthiest members of the population, both individuals and corporations. I clearly am no economist, but even I can understand that when you are setting out to destroy the social safety net, programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that so many poor and middle-class people depend upon, and you intend to transfer the "savings" achieved from that destruction to the very, very, very, very rich by lowering their taxes yet again, then you are talking about income transfer on a very large scale.
Just to take one instance, the most egregious one, destroying Medicare as we know it and forcing the elderly into a voucher program, which Ryan is hot to do, would cause the individual's out-of-pocket medical expenses to double or triple. One estimate that I have seen is that the individual would be paying out 70% - 70%!!! - of his or her income for private medical insurance and expenses.
Now, Medicare and Social Security are two of the most successful programs ever run by a government in the history of the world. They are well-run, efficient, and cost-effective, and they make the difference between poverty and middle-class status for literally millions of Americans. These are not programs that we need to be tampering with or replacing with vouchers. No doubt improvements can be made, as is true of any human-run enterprise. But tossing everything out and starting over again - with something that the CBO and all reputable economists say will be more expensive and less efficient - is not the way to go.
Mr. Ryan's "cause" is clear enough. It is to make those who are not his political allies and those who are the most vulnerable among us poorer so that he can make his political supporters richer. He should be ashamed of himself.
And, by the way, all of those Washington pundits and mainstream media types who wet themselves with excitement whenever he opens his mouth and who report his "budget" uncritically as if it were a serious effort - they should be ashamed, too.
(For a more in-depth discussion of this, read Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman's Friday column in The Times and his various recent blog posts on the subject.)