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Still Praising Ryan as "Fiscal Hawk"

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

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.

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 Mr. Brown."

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 gains.

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.

Krugman's View

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 deficit reduction."

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 "black."

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.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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