(This article first appeared on my blog, Observations on Tap, back in March. I thougt it was worth a reprint.)
"Beware the ides of March."
So went Julius Caesar's last warning before he was stabbed twenty-three times on the floor of the Roman Senate. It was with a certain Shakespearean irony that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan released his 2013 federal budget, an act that may be the final stab wound in what was left of the Republican Party's reputation as the party of fiscal responsibility. In what appears to be symbolic of his party's lost credibly or his own state of denial, Ryan starts off by titling his proposal "The Path to Prosperity" and then promptly details how he will run twenty-eight more years of deficits, not balancing the federal budget until 2040. Now I am fully aware we are in the midst of March Madness, but it would have been nice if the insanity was reserved for the basketball court.
The Republican Party now seems to be devoid of any core philosophy, other than to try and suck just a little less than the Democrats, and even that is proving difficult these days. The Republican strategy to governing appears to have quite a bit in common with the glory days of the Soviet Union, where they would seemingly trot out a new five-year plan every year. Last year Congressman Ryan gave us "The Roadmap for America's Future" which he followed up with this year's "Path to Prosperity". A much more suitable title would have been "The Expressway Off A Cliff, Parts I & II".
In their coverage of Ryan's budget, so-called conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity praised the proposal, calling it a "clear contrast" to the budget proposed by the President. After praising the plan, the two hosts then attempted to justify their praise by citing passages from the document's introduction, in which Congressman Ryan waxes poetically about such concepts as "freedom", "individual liberty", and "adherence to the constitution". These are all very nice concepts, but this is supposed to be a budget proposal, not a philosophy textbook. Ordinarily, in a competent budget, the primary emphasis is on numbers, with the expenditure number not exceeding the revenue number. As is the case with most Washington budgets, this one failed to deliver on that account. Much like the President's budget proposal, this one was little more than a political document. As disappointing as it is, President Obama and Congressman Ryan deserve a small amount of praise for at least putting something down on paper. Congressional Democrats couldn't even be bothered to scribble something on a bar coaster.
The Ryan plan does call for $5.3 trillion dollars worth of cuts but, in a true display of Washington can-kicking, he spreads those cuts out over ten years. While they were all quick to praise the Ryan cuts, Republicans were less forthcoming about the fact that almost all of Ryan's cuts will be cancelled out by a tax cut that will leave the federal government with $4.6 trillion dollars less in revenues. This means that over the next ten years the total net cuts of the Ryan budget will be a measly $700 billion dollars, less than half of our budget shortfall in 2012 alone. At our current trajectory, that would mean even the Ryan plan would add over $16 trillion in new debt over the next ten years.
Much like the President's earlier proposal, Congressman Ryan attempts to make his budget work by projecting growth, unemployment, and revenue collection at historically unrealistic rates. For example, Congressman Ryan's long term budget projects the future unemployment rate to be 2.8 percent. However, the only time the unemployment rate was under three percent in the last eighty-five years was for the first six months of 1953. Ryan also projects lowering discretionary federal spending from its current level of over twelve percent of gdp to under four percent of gdp by 2050. Combining this proposal with Congressman Ryan's promise to never cut defense spending, the Ryan budget has every branch of the federal government closing except for the Pentagon. That means national parks, interstate highways, and airports in this country will all be closed but military bases in Japan, Korea, Kuwait, and Europe will be open for business. You won't be able to fly or drive anywhere but at least Poland will be protected from missiles that don't exist.
With the absence of any reality-based math by Republicans or Democrats, it is not surprising that we are in the fiscal situation we are in. As long as Republicans keep insisting on lowering taxes and Democrats continue to refuse to reduce the size of government, our nation will continue to head towards the cliff. To refer to these policies as sheer insanity is actually an insult to insane people. Just like in the days of Julius Caesar, our politicians have their knives out, only this time the victim won't be one of their own. It will be the very people that they claim to represent.