Ryan’s Budget Spells Out a GOP Manifesto

The plan might be going nowhere, but it provides plenty of fodder for campaigns in 2014 and beyond.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI.) offers remarks while joined by others form the GOP leadership, during a media availability following a Republican Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol, December 11, 2013, in Washington, DC. House Speaker John Boehner responded to conservative groups opposing the newly announced bipartisan budget deal, saying 'They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.' 
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
April 1, 2014, 5:34 p.m.

Rep. Paul Ry­an’s Re­pub­lic­an budget provides plenty of lines of par­tis­an en­gage­ment this elec­tion year, in­clud­ing its call for a “full” re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act, its em­brace of a form of “dy­nam­ic” fisc­al scor­ing, and its re­viv­al of the battle over turn­ing the Medi­care sys­tem in­to a vouch­er-like pro­gram.

This aus­tere plan is to be form­ally ad­op­ted by Ry­an’s Budget Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day. But to achieve its en­vi­sioned cut of about $5.1 tril­lion in spend­ing and a bal­anced budget by 2024, the doc­u­ment in­cludes what ap­pear to be a num­ber of merely philo­soph­ic­al, as­pir­a­tion­al, and even fant­ast­ic­al un­der­pin­nings.

The real­ity is that no one ex­pects this budget doc­u­ment that pushes high­er de­fense spend­ing — and cuts and changes to Medi­care, Medi­caid, food stamps, and oth­er so­cial safety-net pro­grams — really has any chance of be­com­ing law. The Sen­ate won’t take it up; Demo­crats who con­trol the cham­ber aren’t even do­ing a budget of their own.

Even Ry­an ad­mits that the pro­pos­al has no prac­tic­al im­pact right now, as ap­pro­pri­at­ors from both parties aren’t fo­cus­ing bey­ond fisc­al 2015. And spend­ing levels for the next fisc­al year start­ing in Oc­to­ber have already been set un­der the two-year deal the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an worked out in Decem­ber with Demo­crat­ic Sen. Patty Mur­ray, chair of the Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee.

But all of that is not ne­ces­sar­ily the point.

Rather, this longer-term spend­ing pro­pos­al is more an ex­er­cise by Re­pub­lic­ans to provide voters a road map, of sorts, of what they would do if they were totally in charge. Or, as Ry­an said on Tues­day: “We also think it’s im­port­ant to show our vis­ion as a party for the fu­ture.”

Per­haps the budget that Ry­an’s com­mit­tee will mark up is really an ac­cur­ate de­pic­tion of that GOP vis­ion. Who knows?

The truth is, there is little polit­ic­al risk in throw­ing out ideas and prin­ciples, since Re­pub­lic­ans know there is no im­me­di­ate pos­sib­il­ity of en­act­ment. And see­ing things through, as of late, has been a bit of a prob­lem for House Re­pub­lic­ans on a few oth­er dif­fi­cult budget mat­ters where they ul­ti­mately re­treated from their earli­er po­s­i­tions.

For in­stance, many Re­pub­lic­ans were un­able last year to swal­low some of the cuts to nondefense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing called for in a pre­vi­ous Ry­an budget. Later, the ink wasn’t dry on a cut to mil­it­ary pen­sions, passed as part of the Decem­ber budget agree­ment with Mur­ray, when Re­pub­lic­ans rushed to join Demo­crats in un­do­ing the cut. And last month, just hours after Pres­id­ent Obama un­veiled his own fisc­al 2015 budget plan to GOP cat­calls about taxes and spend­ing, scores of House Re­pub­lic­ans joined with Demo­crats in vot­ing to weak­en re­forms they had passed in 2012 to save bil­lions of dol­lars in fed­er­al flood-in­sur­ance costs.

Yet, with this new Ry­an budget plan, it seems, the GOP budget-cut­ting ima­gin­a­tion is once again un­leashed to run wild.

Sixty-two House Re­pub­lic­ans op­posed the Ry­an-Mur­ray deal, os­tens­ibly be­cause it did not seem to cut spend­ing fast enough, though it was pegged spe­cific­ally only to the 2014 and 2015 fisc­al years. As Ry­an ex­plains it, however, that was a “small, nar­row agree­ment,” and he says he is not so much wor­ried about sim­il­ar in­tern­al GOP op­pos­i­tion to “this much big­ger pic­ture” that “does show a path to bal­an­cing the budget.” The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is now about $17.5 tril­lion in debt.

Some 40 per­cent of the $5.1 tril­lion in sav­ings en­vi­sioned in Ry­an’s “big­ger pic­ture” of the next 10 years is de­pic­ted as com­ing through a full re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act. In all, his plan would spend about $42.6 tril­lion over 10 years, com­pared with about $47.8 tril­lion un­der ex­ist­ing policies.

At the same time, Ry­an’s budget does not say pre­cisely what he would re­place Obama­care with, only of­fer­ing the ex­pect­a­tion that it will be re­placed. And Demo­crats, like Budget Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land, com­plain that Ry­an’s pro­pos­al, even while scrap­ping the health care law, keeps all of its more than $700 bil­lion in Medi­care sav­ings, as well as $1 tril­lion in rev­en­ues from Obama­care.

Ry­an and the second-rank­ing Re­pub­lic­an on the Budget Com­mit­tee, Tom Price of Geor­gia, say that what they are really do­ing is stop­ping a “raid” on Medi­care fund­ing un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, and keep­ing the money in­side the pro­gram. And com­pre­hens­ive tax re­form, they say, would re­place some of the re­lated taxes.

But on that point — a tax-code over­haul — Ry­an’s budget does not lay out a de­tailed plan or even em­brace a re­cent one pro­posed by Ways and Means Chair­man Dave Camp of Michigan. Rather, it simply calls for re­du­cing taxes on the wealthy — in­di­vidu­als would have just two rates, 25 and 10 per­cent — and cut­ting the cor­por­ate tax rate to 25 per­cent.

Ry­an’s plan would abide by the split agreed upon with Mur­ray in spend­ing levels between de­fense and nondefense pro­grams for fisc­al 2014 and 2015. But his longer-range mil­it­ary spend­ing would blow past that deal. Mil­it­ary spend­ing through 2024 would ac­tu­ally be in­creased by $483 bil­lion over a cap es­tab­lished in 2011, and to pre-se­quester levels — $274 bil­lion more than re­ques­ted by the pres­id­ent. Mean­while, nondefense spend­ing would be cut by $791 bil­lion.

To reach bal­ance in 10 years, Ry­an’s plan em­braces a con­tro­ver­sial “dy­nam­ic scor­ing” no­tion that there would be some pos­it­ive im­pact on the na­tion’s eco­nom­ic growth simply by re­du­cing the de­fi­cit and cut­ting spend­ing — al­though some eco­nom­ists dis­agree with this and even sug­gest that it could slow the eco­nomy. Ry­an had not in­cluded such a cal­cu­la­tion in his pre­vi­ous budget pro­pos­als.

Ry­an pro­poses turn­ing more con­trol of Medi­caid and food stamps over to states — an an­nu­al pro­pos­al that some say would save money but has been a pop­u­lar elec­tion-year tar­get for Demo­crats.

The plan also re­tains Ry­an’s idea for each Medi­care re­cip­i­ent to choose from a list of cov­er­age op­tions and pay­ments that would “best suit his or her needs,” and then pay­ments would be made dir­ectly to that plan. Longer term, the pro­pos­al dis­cusses giv­ing seni­ors who first be­come eli­gible when turn­ing 65 on or after Jan. 1, 2024, a choice of se­lect­ing private plans along­side the tra­di­tion­al fee-for-ser­vice Medi­care pro­gram.

Ry­an in­sists that this is not a “vouch­er sys­tem,” a phrase that some Demo­crats see as po­ten­tial at­tack am­muni­tion on the cam­paign trail. Van Hol­len told re­port­ers: “The vouch­er plan is back!”

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