Friday, April 6, 2012

Ryan budget provides clear choices

The real winner of the lengthy Republican presidential nomination season appears to be Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who has emerged in the blogosphere and on the pages of major outlets like The New York Times as a potential vice-presidential candidate.

Ryan chairs the House Budget Committee. His proposed 2012 budget now bears the grandiose title "A Roadmap For America's Future." The shorthand "Ryan budget" is used in nearly every discussion of federal policy that involves spending.

Budget discussions make people's eyes glaze over. But analysis by groups that include the Congressional Budget Office, the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities brings the human consequences of mind-numbing numbers back into focus.

The Ryan budget's proposed $3.3 trillion in cuts to low-income programs like food stamps, Pell grants that pay college tuition, Medicaid and job training will place much of the burden of budget balancing on the backs of those with limited means. Another $2 trillion in cuts will affect millions of Americans who do not rely on federal aid but who will inevitably reach age 65. Medicare premiums will be significantly restricted, shifting the cost of health insurance directly onto individuals who may or may not be able to afford to pay for decent care.

The income side of the Ryan budget reverses the benefits and burdens. While those making $1 million or more would pocket $265,000 every year from tax cuts, those making $50,000 to $75,000 would get only $1,045, and half of those making between $20,000 and $30,000 would get nothing.

The Ryan budget could provide the platform for a real national debate about values that have informed federal policies since the New Deal. After the Great Depression, federal policy has come to reflect the belief that prosperity grows "outward from the heart of the middle class," as President Obama said in a recent address. Those who can are expected to help those who can't. Deficit control has to be a significant goal, but getting there should not increase poverty or widen inequality.

Paul Ryan's view reflects the top-down philosophy of the later Reagan years in which those who can will produce enough to provide opportunities for those who want to. In that view, taking care of those who just can't is not the responsibility of the federal government. Let the campaign begin.

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