Federal Budget Battles – Ryan to the Rescue! (ish)

By YeOldeScribe ~ April 15th, 2011 @ 12:32 am

Today officially marks the end of our three-part series on the Federal Budget Battles, but it looks like we’re going to finish up the week with bonus coverage on the budget due to President Obama’s speech yesterday. Before we move on to what the President thinks our financial future looks like, let’s take a look at the Republican plan – the “Path to Prosperity” as they like to call it.

The Path to Prosperity is the brainchild of new-found GOP wonderboy Paul Ryan, a Congressman from WI. If you’d like to read the 73 page document, you can do so here (opens in .pdf). Alternatively, you can check out the short (3 min) video Ryan narrates here. We recommend the video, but wanted to provide both options, because an informed electorate is an effective electorate.  But seriously, check one of the two out before continuing – we’ve always felt it’s better to know what one is discussing before the discussion starts.

Okay, here’s our initial thoughts after taking a look at both the document and the video, and doing some other background research. (As we said, it’s important to be informed – we’d hope that you appreciate the fact that these aren’t the drunken ramblings of some random guy. While Political Progressives is run by a very small  number of people (there’s two of us – a writer and a site administrator), our writer is well-versed in politics and does copious amounts of research for each post.) First of all, the video presentation is crisp and effective. The visuals are strong but not overpowering, and Ryan’s narration is great. While near the end there’s a little too much of an emotional pull, for the majority of the three minutes, Ryan does a good job of presenting numbers which are relatively spot on (about the only one we’d disagree with is his assessment that by 2025, 100% of tax revenue would go to heath care, retirement programs, and interest on the debt. We’re pretty sure defense spending would still be sucking up money in 2025). The Republicans are really going back to their mid-90’s roots with this proposal, except they’re embracing modern technology to pull it off. Kudos.

Aesthetics aren’t the only thing this budget has going for it. If nothing else is right about this bill, we’d like to applaud Ryan and the House Committee on the Budget for tacking this issue head-on. No one else has done it yet – and they even beat Obama to the punch on this one. This is a huge issue that (gulp) the Tea Party was actually right on. This proposal stems from the growing power of that movement. Without the Tea Party, Repubs probably don’t push so hard on this. Before now, budgeting and budget discussions were unpopular. Now we’re not saying discussing the Federal Budget is first-date material here folks, but it can at least be discussed in political circles again – something that hasn’t happened for a long time.

We also appreciate the fact that Ryan brings Medicare and Medicaid onto the table. While we think he goes too far without giving enough specifics, the idea that the programs need to be restructured is valid. At some point, someone needed to say that everything’s on the table. While Obama said it first, we don’t think he would have if Ryan doesn’t put Medicare and Medicaid on the block.

As for the meat and potatoes of Ryan’s plan… here’s where we start to lose our enthusiasm for Ryan and his plan. First, as a general statement, the plan is downright vague. There’s parts to this “Path to Prosperity” where it seems to us more like the “Leap of Faith of Prosperity”. While in the video Ryan does some good analysis and number crunching, the document is lacking. Sometimes the numbers aren’t there. Sometimes they’re not explained. More often than not, the document appears to be a list of goals (which is good) with no coherent way of getting there (which is not good).

Second, the Path to Prosperity is being billed (no pun intended) as the response to Obama’s FY 2012 budget. Let’s make this very clear: it’s not. In no way, shape or form is this an acceptable one-year budget. It lacks the specifics needed, as we mentioned above. For example, the Path to Prosperity says we need to radically change the tax code and how we handle taxes in general. That’s a great idea, and one we’d like to see implemented. The problem is the Path to Prosperity a) doesn’t tell you how to implement any changes, and b) doesn’t even say what specific changes need to be made besides “general reform”. We like the Path to Prosperity as an overall analysis of where the country is headed. Were that the goal of the document, Republicans would have done a fine job. But that wasn’t the goal, and because of that, they came up short.

Third, Ryan’s budget doesn’t touch defense spending. Look, I know it’s important to have the biggest and baddest guns, and that the ability to blow stuff up from every which-way is truly an honorable way to spend money. But facts are facts, and if Medicare/Medicaid is on the table, this should be too. Here’s why:

* Of Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security and Defense Spending, the latter has grown the fastest over the past 10 years

* Both the Korean AND Vietnam Wars were fought on 2/3rds of the current budget.

* By 2019, we’ll spend $700 billion dollars on defense alone*

* And with that increase in spending, our readiness and effectiveness has declined

* On top of all that, the DOD gets so much money, it doesn’t even know how it spends it

(We pulled these statistics from here and here. A keen observer will note that these statistics are 2-3 years old, and are therefore probably low. We’d also like to point out that the starred number for defense spending is only money that goes directly to the DOD. If you factor in all the money we spend related to defense (as this Wikipedia graph does), the number is actually closer to 1.6 trillion by 2019 with a conservative estimate.)

Suffice it to say, something needs to be done about this. According to the first source listed in the above paragraph, simply freezing defense spending at 2007 levels cuts $1 trillion in deficit spending and would force the DOD to actually be accountable for the funds it’s handed. That’s the first thing that needs to be done. Even bigger cuts in defense than that are needed, especially when we’re done failing at nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At this time, we’d like to note that our first paragraph on this subject might have come off as irreverent, and we don’t want to give you all the idea that we don’t support our military. We do. The men and women who bleed and die so that we at Political Progressives can freely write our thoughts deserve our respect and deserve to be properly funded and cared for. All we’re saying is that can be done by spending way less money than we do now. We’d love to go on about how wasteful the DOD is and the myriad ways they could save tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars, but that’s a post for another day. To the men and women of our armed forces: Thank You. To the bureaucracy of our armed forces that has enough money to spend $1,000 on a toaster (.pdf) but can’t send our military out with proper body armor: F You.

Fourth, Ryan’s proposal doesn’t touch Social Security. There’s nothing there. Ryan doesn’t want to touch it because changing Social Security had long been considered one of four ways to commit political suicide (cutting Defense spending, cutting Medicare/Medicaid spending, and raising taxes are the others). If we’re putting the 1st option on the table, Ryan’s bringing the second and Obama’s bringing the third, why can’t we fix this problem? Our writer is 24 years old. He’s accepted the fact that he’ll never see any of the money he’s putting into Social Security because the program will be dead by the time he retires. To say “that’s unfair” or at the very least “that’s a sign the system is broken” is an understatement. It’s downright thievery. Of all the governmental programs that need to be restructured (and could save the government money if they were restructured), this one deserves the biggest look.

Finally, Ryan’s proposal smacks of cronyism. Every single issue Ryan is cutting or modifying are long-held Democratic bastions. The Path to Prosperity doesn’t touch defense spending, protects the wealthy, and rewards rich, capitalist corporations for doing business as usual. Yet women who need health care or the poor have to do their part. That GOP logic has never really made sense to us. But much like Wiscosnin Governor Paul Walker, the Wisconsin Representative seems more interested in smacking Democrats around than fixing problems. We’ll concede that Ryan does a better job at achieving his stated goals than Walker did, and that Ryan isn’t slapping nearly as hard as Walker did. But that doesn’t make what either man did right.

In the end, we’re happy that this initative came out. We’re excited about what it stands for and what it means. We think it’s a step in the right direction, and it can be the springboard for earnest debate on the issues of the Federal Budget, dealing with our debt and corralling wasteful spending.

As long as you don’t actually read it and try to take action based on it. Then you’ll run into problems.

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