After weeding through the gritty details of Rep. Paul Ryan's cheerily titled budget proposal, the Path to Prosperity, policy wonks have issued their first reviews of the plan. The good news for Ryan? "Prosperity" is viewed as a serious, thoughtful attempt to rein in federal expenditures and reduce the long-term federal deficit without the label of being an overtly partisan creation. It's been hailed, and not just by conservatives, as a realistic first step toward achieving the type of smaller government that Republicans like to envision but never seem to offer specifics about.
The bad news? For starters, Ryan's projections seem to rely on overly optimistic economic projections culled from a conservative think-tank that's made similar projection mistakes before. He's also "snuck in" an extension of the 2001/2003 tax cuts that will, as Slate's Jacob Weisberg put it, leave "$400 billion in annual deficits as far as the eye can see." And that doesn't even begin to touch the Democrat's newest talking point that the GOP plans to radically "scrap" Medicare and even sort of overturn Obamacare.
As The New York Times has noted in their easily digestible budget analysis, the actual "details remain sparse" about the long term savings for the plan. The Republican plan calls for $5.8 trillion to be cut over the next decade. "But the Republican projections could not be independently confirmed," the paper observed. Here's some of the biggest changes that proposal-combers have noticed, along with the questions that have arisen about Paul's "fuzzy" attention to a few details:
According to Time's Kate Pickert, for all the hand-wringing over the "massive cuts" to Medicare, Paul has devoted only "three-and-a-half pages" to those changes. Ryan's proposal, she quotes directly from the Congressional Budget Office, would result in "most elderly people [paying more] for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system." Pickert writes: "Ryan's plan would vary subsidies to seniors based on income and health status – poorer and sicker beneficiaries would get larger subsidies. But the details of this are still unknown. Who determines the health risk and how is that translated into dollars?"
Block-granting to states. You'll hear that term bandied about plenty as the debate unfolds. More specifically: "The plan would reduce the Medicaid health-insurance program for the poor by more than $700 billion over the next 10 years by capping the open-ended program and allowing states more discretion over how to run it," explains Bloomberg. The Los Angeles Times has a pessimistic conclusion about this "experiment": "It is far from clear that market forces will hold down the nation's skyrocketing healthcare tab. It is equally uncertain that states will be able control Medicaid costs without stripping away benefits from millions of people."
On Social Security:
Paul's budget declines to push for changes to Social Security, but does call "for a special process to reform Social Security in which the President, working with the program's trustees, and congressional leaders would have to put forward a plan to restore solvency if the program is not sustainable," according to The Hill's budget analysis. The idea is that this process will spur the government officials to action by "not [allowing] lawmakers to ignore any longer the future challenges facing the program."
On Defense and the 'Little' Things:
Ryan still has the defense budget cut by $78 billion, which is the same as the Obama administration's prior proposal.. Meanwhile, "food stamps, farm subsidies, Pell grants for college tuition and other mandatory programs would be cut by $1.8 trillion," points out Bloomberg in a buried item in their analysis.