The Washington Post Is Too Easily Impressed By Paul Ryan

A Washington Post article on Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) proclaimed him a “budget guru” and described him as “wonky” because of the vocabulary he used to discuss the federal budget.

But economists have said that Ryan's reputation as a serious and “wonky” policy expert is undeserved and that the budget he has proposed is “fraudulent.” And Ryan has acknowledged that he has not even bothered to determine whether the budget plan that he is now campaigning on will balance the budget.

The Post report stated: “You can take the budget guru out of Washington, but you can't take Washington out of the budget guru.” The article also claimed that Ryan “has taken care on the campaign trail not to reveal too much of his inner policy wonk,” but that both in discussions with his aides and on the trail, “Ryan couldn't help but focus in on one of his favorite topics: the federal budget.”

What else was the basis for the Post's claim that Ryan is a budget guru? Ryan said he wanted to delve into an aspect of a new Congressional Budget Office report. And Ryan used terms such as “FICA” and “baseline”:

At a campaign stop at a Raleigh sheet metal company on Wednesday, he let slip a mention of “FICA” -- the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.

And at a northeast Ohio hot dog restaurant last week, he fielded a Medicare question from a reporter by bringing up the “B” word -- “baseline,” a bit of Washington-ese that Ryan at the time acknowledged is “a little bit wonky.”

This article came well after Ryan admitted in an interview with Fox's Brit Hume that “we haven't run the numbers” on Mitt Romney's budget plan when he was asked when the plan would balance the budget.

Contrary to the Post's impression of Ryan as a budget guru, Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote that Ryan has an “undeserved reputation for honesty and fiscal responsibility” and that he's not “a serious man” when it comes to policy. Bruce Bartlett, a senior policy advisor in the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations, wrote: “I think Ryan has an undeserved reputation for seriousness in budget matters. The word 'fantasy' would better apply.”

Krugman also called Ryan's budget “surely the most fraudulent budget in American history” for not specifying what tax loopholes would be closed to balance the budget. Bartlett said that “the Ryan budget should be seen as nothing more than a PR document for Republicans.” Urban Institute fellow Howard Gleckman called Ryan's opaque budget “mystery meat,” while the Economic Policy Institute's Andrew Fieldhouse said Ryan's budget “screams fiscal charlatan.”

Economists also say that Ryan has little understanding of monetary policy. In a post to his blog titled “Paul Ryan's Nutty Views on Monetary Policy,” University of Oregon economist Mark Thoma said that he doesn't “understand why someone with such a clownish views is lauded as a policy wonk.” After summarizing Ryan's views on monetary policy, Thoma concluded:

Ryan is not a well-informed policy wonk with new, exciting ideas. He's a policy idiot. Don't let this guy anywhere near the policy levers.

Krugman echoed this warning, writing in his latest New York Times column:

[I]t should worry us that Mr. Ryan holds monetary views that would, if put into practice, go a long way toward recreating the Great Depression.