The media have portrayed Rep. Paul Ryan as a courageous reformer who is offering serious solutions to fix the country's finances. In reality, Ryan is an ideologue who offers fraudulent proposals that would hurt low and middle income Americans and put the social safety net in jeopardy. Media Matters looks at what the media should know about Paul Ryan and his policies.
Members Of The Media Have Called Ryan “Courageous,” “Genius” And “The Adult In the Room.” During his time as House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been portrayed by members of the media as a serious reformer who is working to diligently reform the country's financial situation. For examples of the media's praise of Ryan, go here, here, here, here and here.
Economist William Gale: “Low- And Middle-Class Households Bear The Entire Burden Of Closing The Fiscal Gap” Under Ryan's Budget Plan. Tax Policy Center co-director William Gale, who served as a senior staff economist for the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush, wrote that Ryan's fiscal year 2013 budget plan is “essentially, an effort to have low- and middle-class households bear the entire burden of closing the fiscal gap and bear the costs of financing an additional tax cut for high income households.” He added:
The Tax Policy Center (which I co-direct) analyzed the revenue policies as proposed by Rep. Ryan. We simulated the effects of repealing the AMT and reducing ordinary income tax rates to 10 and 25 percent. These proposals would cost about $3.2 trillion over ten years, on top of the $0.3 trillion lost from repealing taxes enacted to pay for Affordable Care Act, the $1.1 trillion lost from his desired reduction in the corporate tax rate, and the $5.4 trillion lost from first extending the Bush-Obama tax cuts (which he also supports). By 2022, the tax policies he has specified would lower federal revenues to just 15.8 percent of GDP. Talk about digging yourself a hole.
Ryan claims he can fill this hole by eliminating tax breaks, which he correctly identifies as “spending through the tax code.” At first glance, this sounds like a step in the right direction: broaden the base and lower rates. Yet, like many recent proposals, the devil is in the details. Ryan never specifies which specific tax expenditures he would cut.
At a time when our country faces a daunting fiscal challenge, Ryan asks nothing of the wealthiest Americans. His budget proposal would simultaneously cut tax rates for the rich and corporations while slashing programs for the poor and elderly: he would shift many federal low-income assistance programs to state governments and would transform Medicare into a premium support system that will shift health care costs to seniors if health care inflation cannot be controlled. [Tax Policy Center's TaxVox, 3/27/12]
Tax Policy Center: Those Making More Than $1 Million Would Receive An Average Tax Cut Of $265,000 In Addition To Their Benefits From The Bush Tax Cuts. From a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analysis of the Ryan plan:
A new TPC analysis finds that people with incomes above $1 million would receive a $265,000 average annual tax cut just from the new Ryan proposals (i.e., not counting what they would also receive from extension of the Bush tax cuts).
As noted, these regressive new tax cuts would come on top of the Bush tax cuts, which also were costly and provided disproportionate gains to the highest-income households. Combined, the Bush and Ryan tax cuts would provide an annual windfall of nearly $400,000 apiece, on average, to people with incomes over $1 million (see Figure 3).
CBPP: Ryan “Would Significantly Worsen Inequality And Increase Poverty And Hardship.” From CBPP's analysis:
By combining large budget cuts (and tax increases) that disproportionately harm lower-income Americans with big tax cuts that disproportionately help those at the top of the income scale, the Ryan budget would significantly worsen inequality and increase poverty and hardship (and reduce opportunity as well, through deep cuts in programs such as Pell Grants to help low-income students afford college).
[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/12/12]
CBPP: Ryan Gets 62% Of Non-Defense Budget Cuts From Programs For Low-Income Americans. A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Ryan's 2013 budget plan found that it “would get at least 62 percent of its $5.3 trillion in nondefense budget cuts over ten years (relative to a continuation of current policies) from programs that serve people of limited means. ”
Ryan's cuts from programs benefiting low-income earners include "$2.4 trillion in reductions from Medicaid and other health care for people with low or moderate incomes" and "$134 billion in cuts to SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program." Additionally, Ryan would cut at least $463 billion from “mandatory programs serving low-income Americans (other than Medicaid and SNAP)” and “at least $291 billion in cuts in low-income discretionary programs.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/23/12]
CBPP: Many Low-Income Families “Would Actually See An Increase In Their Tax Burdens.” From a CBPP analysis of Ryan's plan:
Many low-income working families would actually see an increase in their tax burdens under the Ryan plan. While the Ryan budget makes permanent all of the Bush tax cuts including those for high-income households, which are slated to expire at the end of 2012, it would not fully extend the tax cuts for working-poor households that were enacted under President Obama and also are scheduled to expire at the end of this year.
As a result, while the most affluent people in the country would receive very large income gains under Chairman Ryan's specific tax-cut proposals, millions of working-poor families would see their small after-tax incomes reduced. A single mother with two children who works full time at the minimum wage and makes $14,500 a year would have her Child Tax Credit cut by more than $1,500, from $1,725 to $218. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/12/12]
Jonathan Cohn: “Ryan Really Believes In Ending Medicare As We Know It.” New Republic blogger and health care journalist Jonathan Cohn wrote that Ryan's plan would end Medicare as we know it by eliminating the program's guarantee of comprehensive medical benefits while raising the eligibility age and producing vouchers that will quickly prove inadequate to allow seniors to purchase the care they need.:
Ryan really believes in ending Medicare as we know it. The essential promise of Medicare, ever since its establishment in 1965, is that every senior citizen is entitled to a comprehensive set of medical benefits that will protect him or her from financial ruin. The government provides these benefits directly, through a public insurance program, although seniors have the right to enroll in comparable private plans if they choose. But the key is that guarantee of benefits, and it's what Ryan would take away. He would replace it with a voucher, whose value would rise at a pre-determined formula unlikely to keep up with actual medical expenses.
Ryan's early proposals had no safeguards to make sure the voucher was adequate. His most recent one has safeguards, a more reasonable spending line, and preserves the government-run plan as an option. But the safeguards are weak, at best, and the government-run program would struggle to survive. The long-term effect would likely be the same: Over time, more and more seniors would find the voucher too small to buy the insurance they need, forcing many to pick between health care and other essential needs--the very same situation they routinely faced until the 1960s, when dismay over the hardship seniors faced created the political groundswell for Medicare.
Keep in mind, by the way, that Ryan would also raise the eligibility age of Medicare from 65 to 67. Without the Affordable Care Act, which Ryan would repeal, many if not most 65- and 66-year-olds without employer insurance would end up uninsured. And that's not an age at which you want to be skipping doctor visits. [The New Republic, 8/11/12]
CBPP: Ryan Would Divide Health System Into “Two Tiers: Those Who Could Afford The Care They Need Would Get It” And Many Others Who Would Not. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities vice president Edwin Park wrote that the “Ryan budget would divide our health system into a distinct two tiers: those who could afford the care they need would get it; many others would not.” He explained:
·He would convert Medicare into a voucher to buy private insurance or traditional Medicare, and cap Medicare financing for the vouchers at levels that wouldn't keep pace with health costs. By 2050, the Congressional Budget Office says, federal funding for a 67-year-old beneficiary's health costs would be 35 percent to 42 percent lower than under current law. With vouchers growing more inadequate over time, beneficiaries would face much higher premiums and cost-sharing. Some would become uninsured; others would forgo care they couldn't afford.
· He would turn Medicaid into a block grant program and give states less financing each year. States would get one-third less by 2022, which led the C.B.O. to conclude that unless states spent substantially more of their own money on Medicaid, they'd have to make substantial cuts to eligibility, benefits and/or provider payments. When Ryan proposed a similar system last year, the Urban Institute estimated states would cut 14 million to 27 million beneficiaries by 2021. [NYTimes.com, 5/7/12]
CBPP: Ryan Plan Would “Leave Many 65- And 66-Year Olds Without Any Health Coverage At All.”
The budget resolution developed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would make significant changes to Medicare. It would replace Medicare's current guarantee of coverage with a premium-support voucher, raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67, and reopen the “doughnut hole” in Medicare's coverage of prescription drugs. Together, these changes would shift substantial costs to Medicare beneficiaries and (with the simultaneous repeal of health reform) leave many 65- and 66-year olds without any health coverage at all. The plan also would likely lead to the gradual demise of traditional Medicare by making its pool of beneficiaries smaller, older, and sicker -- and increasingly costly to cover. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/28/12]
Financial Journalist Gleckman: Ryan Plan “Suggests Seniors Would Pay A Lot More Even If Medical Care Becomes More Efficient.” Urban Institute resident fellow and financial journalist Howard Gleckman wrote:
Medicare. Ryan's budget includes a version of the premium support plan he designed with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). But while a system where seniors get subsidies to buy health insurance on the private market might make economic sense, it is wildly unpopular. Some surveys show 70 percent of those asked favor the current system.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, Ryan would dramatically cut federal spending for new enrollees over time. It figures that by 2050 the federal share of Medicare costs would be 42 percent lower under the Ryan plan than under CBO's best guess of the future path of Medicare spending. In that year, CBO expects the feds would spend $19,100 in 2011 dollars on a typical 67-year-old. But it would spend only $11,100 under the Ryan plan. That suggests seniors would pay a lot more even if medical care becomes more efficient. [Tax Policy Center's TaxVox, 3/22/12]
CBPP: Ryan Plan Would Hurt Medicaid Recipients With Deep Funding Cuts. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote of Ryan's plan for Medicaid recipients:
The Ryan plan would replace Medicaid with a block grant that would grow each year with inflation and U.S. population growth, or more than 3.5 percentage points less than current projected annual growth in Medicaid (which is influenced by the growing number of elderly beneficiaries as the population ages) and significantly below the cost growth that the Ryan budget would allow in Medicare. Chairman Ryan today defended the plan's severe Medicaid cuts by claiming that “the program's current financing structure has created rapidly rising costs that are nearly impossible to check.”  The claim that Medicaid's financing structure is driving the rising costs is, however, false. Research shows that Medicaid costs substantially less per beneficiary than private insurance does (because Medicaid pays providers significantly less and has lower administrative costs) and that per-beneficiary costs have been rising more slowly in Medicaid than in the private sector for a number of years. (See Figures 1 and 2.)
As CBO's analysis notes, unless states increased their Medicaid funding massively to make up for the Ryan plan's very deep funding cuts, they would have to take such steps as cutting eligibility (leading to more uninsured low-income people), cutting covered services (leading to more underinsured low-income people), and/or cutting already-low payment rates to health care providers (likely inducing doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes to withdraw from Medicaid and thereby reducing beneficiaries' access to care).
For example, the Urban Institute estimated that a similar Medicaid block grant proposal that Chairman Ryan included in his budget last year would lead states to drop between 14 million and 27 million people from Medicaid by 2021 (on top of the coverage losses resulting from repealing the health reform law's Medicaid expansion). [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/20/12]
Economist Paul Krugman: “Fraudulent” Ryan Plan Relies On “Completely Unsupported” Deficit Reduction Assertion. From Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman's New York Times column:
And when I say fraudulent, I mean just that. The trouble with the budget devised by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn't just its almost inconceivably cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy. Even aside from all that, the Ryan budget purports to reduce the deficit -- but the alleged deficit reduction depends on the completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found by closing tax loopholes.
And we're talking about a lot of loophole-closing. As Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out, to make his numbers work Mr. Ryan would, by 2022, have to close enough loopholes to yield an extra $700 billion in revenue every year. That's a lot of money, even in an economy as big as ours. So which specific loopholes has Mr. Ryan, who issued a 98-page manifesto on behalf of his budget, said he would close?
None. Not one. He has, however, categorically ruled out any move to close the major loophole that benefits the rich, namely the ultra-low tax rates on income from capital. (That's the loophole that lets Mitt Romney pay only 14 percent of his income in taxes, a lower tax rate than that faced by many middle-class families.)
So the Ryan budget is a fraud; Mr. Ryan talks loudly about the evils of debt and deficits, but his plan would actually make the deficit bigger even as it inflicted huge pain in the name of deficit reduction. But is his budget really the most fraudulent in American history? Yes, it is. [New York Times, 4/1/12]
Tax Policy Center: Ryan Plan Would “Add $4.6 Trillion To The Federal Deficit Over The Next Decade.” Howard Gleckman, editor of the Tax Policy Center's TaxVox blog, wrote of the Ryan plan's effect on the federal deficit:
Earlier this week, TPC projected the tax cuts in Ryan's budget would add $4.6 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, even after extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts, which would add another $5.4 trillion to the deficit.
Ryan argues that eliminating or scaling back deductions, credits, and exclusions ought to be part of the GOP fiscal plan. But he won't say how.
Cuts in those tax preferences could make a big difference in determining who wins and who loses from the tax portion of his budget. But until House Republicans describe which they'd cut, there is no way to estimate what those base-broadeners would mean. [Tax Policy Center's TaxVox, 3/23/12]
Citizens For Tax Justice Director Robert McIntyre: Ryan Plan Is “All Smoke And Mirrors And No Deficit Reduction.” In a March 20 post on his Washington Post blog The Plum Line, Greg Sargent quoted Citizens for Tax Justice director Robert McIntyre as saying that Ryan's plan is “all smoke mirrors and no deficit reduction” :
Here's how McIntyre reached his conclusion. He compared the amounts the Ryan budget predicts in revenues and expenditures for fiscal years 2013-2022, with the same numbers the Congressional Budget Office projects under current law.
Bottom line: By McIntyre's calculations, the Ryan budget cuts taxes by $4.3 trillion over 10 years; and it cuts spending by $4.2 trillion over the same period. Since the former is larger than the latter, the deficit would marginally go up.
“He thinks he can get the corporate and personal rate down to 25 percent and not lose money,” says McIntyre, whose group is liberal leaning but nonpartisan and doesn't hesitate to criticize Democrats. “He waves his hands, and says, `There must be something to cover it.'”
McIntyre says the plan would proably result in a “huge” deficit increase, even though there isn't enough information in the proposal to calculate it.
“This is all smoke mirrors and no deficit reduction,” McIntyre concludes. “Have you seen the cover? It's beautiful. That's the best part. But he is proposing to increase the budget deficit over the long term.” [The Washington Post, 3/20/12]
Economist Dean Baker: Ryan Budget Isn't A Serious Proposal. From a piece by Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker:
It is easy to see that Ryan himself could not possibly be serious about the document he put out as a “Path to Prosperity.” The Congressional Budget Office analysis of the plan, which was prepared under Representative Ryan's direction, shows that all categories of government spending outside of health care and Social Security will shrink to 3.75 percent of GDP by 2050.
This 3.75 percent of GDP includes defense spending, which is currently close to 4.0 percent of GDP, not including the cost of the war in Afghanistan. Representative Ryan said that he wants to keep defense spending close to its current level. This means that we have no money left to pay for the Justice Department, the State Department, support for education, roads and other infrastructure, the Park Service, the National Institutes of Health and all the other things that we expect the federal government to do. Essentially Paul Ryan is an anarchist who is proposing to shut down the federal government.
This cannot be a misrepresentation of Representative Ryan's agenda. He put out essentially the same budget last year at which point many people pointed out the fact that he shrank most categories of government spending to zero. If that was a mistake (albeit an incredibly foolish one) he has now had a full year to reflect on his error and redesign a budget to reflect his real priorities. [Huffington Post, 3/26/12]
Ryan Supported Fiscally Irresponsible Bush Tax Cuts. Ryan voted to support the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. He also praised the extension of the Bush tax cuts in 2010. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, the Bush tax cuts did “lasting harm” to the federal deficit. [Media Matters, 5/5/11]
Ryan Supported Medicare Part D. In 2003, Ryan voted for the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would increase deficits by $372.5 billion over a 10 year period. In 2009, Washington Post writer Ezra Klein noted: “It is insane that the people who voted for the deficit-financed, $700 billion Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit are allowed to scream about fiscal rectitude this year.” [Media Matters, 5/5/11]
For more on how the media have praised Paul Ryan for his work on deficits, despite his support for policies that created massive federal deficits, go here.
In 2004, Ryan “Set Out To Privatize Social Security.” The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reported that Ryan, along with a few allies, persuaded former President George W. Bush to privatize Social Security, with people able to divert up to half of their contributions from the Social Security trust fund into private accounts. From Lizza's article:
Ryan's first significant policy fight came in 2004. As President George W. Bush campaigned for a second term, largely emphasizing counter-terrorism and national-security policies, Ryan laid the groundwork for the Republican agenda should Bush be elected. For the first time, Ryan had the chance to pursue some of the more daring libertarian ideas that had captivated him. As a thirty-four-year-old representative, he set out to privatize Social Security.
Under Ryan's initial version, American workers would be able to invest about half of their payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, in private accounts. As a plan to reduce government debt, it made no sense. It simply took money from one part of the budget and spent it on private accounts, at a cost of two trillion dollars in transition expenses. But, as an ideological statement about the proper relationship between individuals and the federal government, Ryan's plan was clear. [The New Yorker, 8/6/12]
Ryan's 2010 Plan: Privatize And Gut Social Security. As The Washington Post explained, in 2010, Ryan's deficit-reduction proposal reduced Social Security benefits for workers 54 and younger and allowed workers to divert Social Security contributions from the Social Security trust fund into the stock market. From an August 2010 Washington Post article describing Ryan's plan:
Future Social Security benefits would be reduced for many workers now 54 or younger. They would also have the option of putting into investment accounts some money they would pay in Social Security taxes. [Washington Post, 8/2/10]
Ryan's 2010 Plan Proposed Raising The Retirement Age To 70. The Post also reported that Ryan's proposal “gradually raise[d] the retirement age to 70.” [Washington Post, 8/2/10]
Even Boehner And GOP Candidates Running In 2010 Thought Ryan's 2010 Social Security Plan Was Too Extreme. Lizza reported in The New Yorker that when pressed to take a position on Ryan's plan, Boehner “distanced himself from the plan” and Republicans running in 2010 did not back Ryan's plan either:
He became the face of the opposition, someone who could attack the President's policies with facts and figures. Indeed, at the retreat, Obama had mischaracterized Ryan's Medicare plan, and Ryan politely corrected him. The two men sparred again the next month, at a summit at Blair House, over the President's health-care plan. The details of Ryan's proposals and his critiques of Obama's mattered less than the fact that he was taking on the President. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders started to feel pressure to take a position on the Ryan budget.
In July, Boehner distanced himself from the plan. But Ryan's outside-in strategy, of building support among conservatives who would pressure Republican leaders to embrace his ideas, started to pay off. An editorial in the Weekly Standard stated that “Republicans should embrace Ryan's Road Map.” Dick Armey, the former congressional leader, who had become a Tea Party organizer, demanded that Republicans have the “courage” to back Ryan's plan. Boehner's position insured that most Republican candidates didn't listen to Armey's advice, and in 2010 they campaigned against Obama's alleged cuts to Medicare rather than for Ryan's plan to end the program. [The New Yorker, 8/6/12]
After Listening To His GOP Colleagues, Ryan Did Not Include His Social Security Privatization Plan In His 2010 And 2011 Budget Proposals. Even though Ryan had pushed to privatize Social Security for years, Lizza reported that after Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives, Ryan held “a series of listening sessions for their colleagues.” Following the listening sessions, Ryan removed the Social Security privatization plan from his budget proposal. From Lizza's profile:
During the next four months, Ryan and McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House, convened a series of listening sessions for their colleagues, placing special emphasis on the Republican freshmen. Wielding a PowerPoint presentation that included photographs of chaos in Greece, which was sliding into its debt crisis, the two led the new members of Congress through the perils of the government's fiscal trajectory, and patiently explained how Ryan's plan was both the only solution and a political winner. In April, after months of this education campaign, Ryan formally unveiled a third version of the Roadmap, renamed the Path to Prosperity.
After the listening sessions, Ryan had removed some of the most controversial ideas, including the manifesto-like introduction, and even the Social Security privatization plan. The credit for taxpayers to buy health insurance was scrapped as well, but Ryan added a new plank: to repeal Obama's health-care law and to effectively cut Medicaid by a third. (Under the plan, Medicaid would no longer keep up with rising medical costs.) Ryan conceded that he couldn't get his colleagues to go along with everything in the old plan. “I had to pass a bill--I had to get two hundred and eighteen people,” he told me. His original Roadmap “was just me, unplugged,” he said. “But when you're writing a budget you're representing an entire conference, and so you have to get consensus.” [The New Yorker, 8/6/12]
For more on why privatizing Social Security would be a bad idea, click here.
NY Times: Since 1900, Ryan Is The Most Ideological Person With Congressional Experience Picked To Be VP. New York Times statistician Nate Silver examined all vice presidential picks since 1900 who had congressional experience. He found that Ryan was “further from the center” than any previous pick. Silver also found that Ryan was roughly as conservative as failed presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN). From Silver's blog post:
Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann, the controversial congresswoman of Minnesota.
By this measure, in fact, which rates members of the House and Senate throughout different time periods on a common ideology scale, Mr. Ryan is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900. He is also more conservative than any Democratic nominee was liberal, meaning that he is the furthest from the center. (The statistic does not provide scores for governors and other vice-presidential nominees who never served in Congress.) [NY Times, 8/11/12]
President Bush: “This Is A Strong Pick.” In reaction to Romney's selection, President George W. Bush released a statement praising Ryan: “This is a strong pick. Governor Romney is serious about confronting the long-term challenges facing America, and Paul Ryan will help him solve the difficult issues that must be addressed for future generations.” [CNN.com, 8/11/12]
President Bush Offered Ryan OMB Director Job. From an August 9 Politico article:
Bush actually offered Ryan the top White House budget post after Portman resigned in June 2007 to spend more time with his family.
A new Democratic research file on Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who's being discussed as a possible Mitt Romney running mate, unearthed a little-known fact from a 2009 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story: Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, once turned down an offer to lead Bush's Office of Management and Budget, known as OMB.
“Ryan sounded surprised when asked about it, but confirmed it. 'You asked. I can't lie to you,' he said. 'Obviously I didn't take the offer.'”
When Ryan declined, the GOP aide said, the job went to former House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, who had lost the Iowa gubernatorial race in November 2006. [Politico, 8/9/12]