In announcing the Republicans' new budget and tax
plan Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said, "We are
sharpening the contrast between the path that we're proposing and the
path of debt and decline the president has placed us upon."
Ryan is right about sharpening the contrast. But the plan doesn't do
much to reduce the debt. Even by its own estimate the deficit would drop
to $166 billion in 2018 and then begin growing again.
The real contrast is over what the plan does for the rich and what it
does to everyone else. It reduces the top individual and corporate tax
rates to 25 percent. This would give the wealthiest Americans an average
tax cut of at least $150,000 a year.
The money would come out of programs for the elderly, lower-middle families, and the poor.
Seniors would get subsidies to buy private health insurance or
Medicare -- but the subsidies would be capped. So as medical costs
increased, seniors would fall further and further behind.
Other cuts would come out of food stamps, Pell grants to offset the
college tuition of kids from poor families, and scores of other programs
that now help middle-income and the poor.
The plan also calls for repealing Obama's health-care overhaul,
thereby eliminating healthcare for 30 million Americans and allowing
insurers to discriminate against (and drop from coverage) people with
The plan would carve an additional $19 billion out of next year's
"discretionary" spending over and above what Democrats agreed to last
year. Needless to say, discretionary spending includes most of programs
for lower-income families.
Not surprisingly, the Pentagon would be spared.
So what's the guiding principle here? Pure social Darwinism. Reward the rich and cut off the help to anyone who needs it.
Ryan says too many Americans rely on government benefits. "We don't
want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people
into lives of dependency."
Well, I have news for Paul Ryan. Almost 23 million able-bodied people
still can't find work. They're not being lulled into dependency. They
and their families could use some help. Even if the economy continues to
generate new jobs at the rate it's been going the last three months, we
wouldn't see normal rates of unemployment until 2017.
And most Americans who do have jobs continue to lose ground. New
research by professors Emmanual Saez and Thomas Pikkety show that the
average adjusted gross income of the bottom 90 percent was $29,840 in
2010 -- down $127 from 2009 and down $4,842 from 2000 -- and just slightly
higher than it was 46 years ago in 1966 (all figures adjusted
They could use better schools, access to higher education, lower-cost
health care, improved public transportation, and lots of other things
Ryan and his colleagues are intent on removing.
Meanwhile, America's rich continue to grow richer -- and many of them
(and their heirs) are being lulled into lives whose hardest task is
summoning the help.