Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson devotes today's column to lavishing praise upon GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, who -- like Gerson -- once worked on Jack Kemp's staff (Gerson later worked as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.) Gerson lauds Ryan as “crackling with ideas and shockingly sincere” and among the “greatest long-term threats” to Democrats.
“Shockingly sincere” isn't a phrase many are likely to apply to Gerson's column. It is, instead, jaw-droppingly disingenuous. Gerson gushes over Ryan's “courageous” budget proposal, which Gerson calls a “solution to endless deficits” -- a contrast to the “deficits to infinity and beyond” and “path to economic ruin” offered by progressives. Gerson notes that Ryan's budget proposal, “according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), eventually achieves a balanced budget.”
Gerson doesn't mention that “eventually” means “in about 50 years.” But that isn't the really disingenuous aspect of Gerson's praise for Ryan.
The really disingenuous part is that -- at Ryan's request -- the CBO didn't actually analyze Ryan's proposal. It analyzed only the portions of Ryan's proposal that deal with spending, while ignoring his tax proposals. Here's CBO's explanation (PDF):
The proposal would make significant changes to the tax system. However, as specified by your staff, for this analysis total federal tax revenues are assumed to equal those under CBO's alternative fiscal scenario (which is one inter- pretation of what it would mean to continue current fiscal policy) until they reach 19 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030, and to remain at that share of GDP thereafter.
Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center explains the importance of that disclaimer:
But, and this caveat is a whopper, CBO assumed this wonderful outcome would occur only if the revenue portion of Ryan's plan generated 19 percent of GDP in taxes. And there is not the slightest evidence that would happen. Even though Ryan's plan has a detailed tax component, his staff asked CBO to ignore it. Rather than estimate the true revenue effects of the Ryan plan, CBO simply assumed, as the lawmaker requested, that it would generate revenues of 19 percent of GDP.
We don't have any idea what this plan would do to revenues, but in some ways it resembles former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson's campaign plan. TPC figured that scheme would reduce tax revenues by between $6 trillion and $8 trillion over 10 years. Unless Ryan can achieve unrealistically large cuts in spending as well, this is not exactly a roadmap to solvency in my book.
Gerson never mentions that the CBO analysis excludes Ryan's tax proposals. He simply pretends that Ryan's entire proposal leads to a balanced budget, and praises Ryan's courage and sincerity. Last March, it should be noted, Gerson lambasted an Obama budget proposal for “illusory” spending reductions based on a “phony assumption” about war spending and “growth assumptions” that are “not remotely realistic.” Such criticisms apparently do not apply to those who, like Gerson, once worked for Jack Kemp.
Gerson is badly misleading readers about the CBO's assessment of Ryan's plan. There's a long tradition of columnists ignoring inconvenient facts that undercut their arguments, but this one is a whopper. You have to question the judgement of a newspaper that would choose to feature such a columnist.