Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has made the
unassailable point that it is absurd to let Rep. Paul Ryan masquerade as
a "fiscal hawk" when his budget plan -- with more tax cuts for the rich --
would extend deficit spending for a generation or more. But that hasn't
stopped the Times' political reporter Katharine Q. Seelye from continuing the Ryan charade.
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Seelye, who apparently can't find a Republican excuse that she won't buy into, transformed an article about
the Massachusetts Senate race into incoherence by positioning Ryan as a
"fiscal hawk" and thus making Sen. Scott Brown's nervousness about Mitt
Romney's selection of Ryan for Vice President sound like Brown is in
some competition with his Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren to run up
the federal debt.
"Mr. Brown is doing all he can to erase the notion of party politics
from the public consciousness -- a balancing act that has become trickier
since Mr. Romney chose Representative Paul D. Ryan, a fiscal hawk, as
his running mate," Seelye wrote, adding:
"Democrats in Massachusetts were thrilled with the selection of Mr.
Ryan, whose conservative fiscal and social views are out of sync with
New England Republicanism, and Ms. Warren is determined to pin him on
But what makes Ryan a "fiscal hawk," which is defined as someone who
advocates aggressive policies to eliminate the budget deficit? The
budgets that Ryan has promoted as House Budget Committee chairman simply
don't do that, in large part, because they blow a hole in government
revenues by making George W. Bush's tax cuts permanent, by reducing the
income tax rate even more and by getting rid of the tax on capital
Though Ryan has talked vaguely about counterbalancing that lost
revenue by making some unspecified adjustments and by slashing spending,
his 2012 budget foresaw a continued federal deficit for nearly three
decades -- and only brought to an end then if his original Medicare
voucher plan were enacted because it would have shifted medical costs
heavily onto the backs of future seniors.
If a less draconian overhaul were enacted -- along the lines of
the revised scheme that he embraced last December -- the likely effect
would be to take less money out of the pockets of seniors for medical
insurance and thus delay any federal budget-balancing even longer. In
other words, the media's hackneyed reference to Ryan as a "fiscal hawk"
is just bad reporting.
As Krugman noted in a blog post on Aug. 18, it's important to...
"...look at what [Ryan's] budget
(pdf) actually proposes (as opposed to vaguely promises) in its first
decade. First, there are a set of tax cuts for higher income brackets
and corporations. The Tax Policy Center (pdf) estimates the cost of these tax cuts, relative to current policy, at $4.3 trillion.
"Second, there are spending cuts.
Of these, approximately $800 billion comes from converting Medicaid
into a block grant that grows only with population and overall inflation
-- a big cut compared with projections that take into account rising
health-care costs and an aging population (since the elderly and
disabled account for most Medicaid expenses).
"Another $130 billion comes from doing something similar to food
stamps. Then there are odds and ends -- Pell grants, job training. Be
generous and call all of this $1 trillion in specified cuts.
"On top of this we should add the $700 billion in Medicare cuts that
Ryan denounces in Obamacare but nonetheless incorporates into his own
plan. So if we look at the actual policy proposals, they look like this:
Spending cuts: $1.7 trillion; Tax cuts: $4.3 trillion. This is, then, a
plan that would increase the deficit by around $2.6 trillion.
"How, then, does Ryan get to call himself a fiscal hawk? By asserting
that he will keep his tax cuts revenue-neutral by broadening the base
in ways he refuses to specify, and that he will make further large cuts
in spending, in ways he refuses to specify. And this is what passes
inside the Beltway for serious thinking and a serious commitment to
So one might think that Seelye would want to avoid falling into the
trap of accepting Ryan's self-serving self-image as a "fiscal hawk."
There's also the question of whether he deserves to be called a
politician with "conservative fiscal" views in contrast to New England
Republicans. In Seelye's world, New England Republicans may
be profligate spenders who don't care about deficits, but in the real
world, they are arguably more fiscally conservative than radical
tax-cutters like Ryan.
But Seelye has a history of carrying water for
right-wing Republicans. Earlier this year, she "clarified" former Sen.
Rick Santorum's comment to a group of whites in Iowa about not wanting
"to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's
money." When criticized, Santorum insisted he had said "blah," not
Traditionally, the role of the press in such cases is to hold
politicians accountable, not let them make a bigoted appeal to one group
and then weasel out of it later. However, Seelye chose to buy into
Santorum's ridiculous explanation.