Of the $5.3 trillion in cuts Romney and Ryan have proposed, nearly 2/3rds come from programs for the poor. But when it comes time to eviscerate the rest of the federal budget, i.e. funding for things like drug enforcement and public schools, Congress will never cut those programs that deeply. In other words, the rich will get their tax cuts, the poor will remain destitute, and America will be driven ever deeper into debt.
(Article changed on October 7, 2012 at 23:04)
(Article changed on October 7, 2012 at 20:06)
There is no longer any ambiguity about the path that Romney would pursue as president, because it's the same trajectory charted by Paul Ryan, the architect of the House GOP's reactionary agenda since the party's takeover in 2010. "Picking Ryan as vice president outlines the future of the next four or eight years of a Romney administration," GOP power broker Grover Norquist exulted in August. "Ryan has outlined a plan that has support in the Republican House and Senate. You have a real sense of where Romney's going." As Norquist told party activists back in February, the true direction of the GOP is being mapped out by congressional hardliners. All the Republicans need, to realize their vision, he said, is a president "with enough working digits to handle a pen."
But the GOP legislation awaiting Romney's signature isn't simply a return to the era of George W. Bush. From abortion rights and gun laws to tax giveaways and energy policy, it's far worse. Here's why:
Measures that have already sailed through the Republican House, and are simply waiting for Romney to take the presidency, would do the following:
* roll back clean-air protections so as to help increase the profits of many large corporations,
* gut both Medicare and Medicaid as a favor to big health insurance companies,
* lavish trillions in tax cuts on billionaires while raising taxes on the poor, to help pay for those tax cuts,
* slash everything from college aid to veteran benefits, to help pay for more tax cuts for the very rich.
In fact, the tenets of Ryan Republicanism are so extreme that they even offend the pioneers of trickle-down economics. "Ryan takes out the ax and goes after programs for the poor -- which is the last thing you ought to cut," says David Stockman, who served as Ronald Reagan's budget director. "It's ideology run amok."
A look at the bills that Republicans have passed since they took control of the House in 2010 offers a clear blueprint of the agenda that a Romney administration would be primed to establish:
Republicans in Congress have repeatedly put ideology before creating jobs. Example: For more than a year, they've refused to put President Obama's jobs bill up for a vote, even though projections show it would create nearly 2 million jobs without adding a penny to the deficit. The reason? The $447 billion bill would have to be entirely paid for through a surtax on millionaires.
Second example: the Republicans' signature initiative last year -- the debt-ceiling standoff -- was a known jobs-killer, clearly applying the brakes to the economic recovery. From February through April 2011, the economy had been adding 200,000 jobs a month. But during the uncertainty created by this congressional impasse, job creation was cut in half for every month the standoff continued. And according to the Economic Policy Institute, the immediate spending cuts required by the debt-ceiling compromise are likely to shrink the economy by $43 billion this year, killing nearly 323,000 jobs. This is putting ideology before job creation, the American people be damned.
What Ryan markets as his "Path to Prosperity" would make things even worse: The draconian cuts in his latest budget, according to the Economics Policy Institute, would put an additional drag on the economy, destroying another 4.1 million jobs by 2014.
The Republican War Against Women
Last year, the House passed a bill that would prohibit women from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion. The so-called Protect Life Act would also allow hospitals to refuse a dying woman an abortion that would save her life. Ryan himself co-sponsored legislation that would have made it impossible for impoverished victims of rape and incest to receive abortions unless their assault met a narrow definition of "forcible rape." Under the bill's language, for instance, federal abortion coverage would be denied to a 12-year-old girl impregnated by a 40-year-old man -- unless she could prove she fought back.
And when they weren't trying to force women to birth babies for rapists, the GOP House was voting to make it easier for would-be criminals to carry concealed firearms. In the first major gun legislation passed after their colleague Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by one Jared Loughner, the House sided with her attempted murderer, passing an NRA-backed measure that would have undercut state limits on concealed-carry permits. The bill would "make it easier for crazies like Jared Loughner to pack heat on our streets and in our communities."
Drill and Pollute
In thrall to dirty-energy interests, House Republicans have held more than 300 votes to hamstring the EPA, roll back environmental protections and open up sensitive public land to drilling -- offering polluters a virtual license to kill. "This is, without doubt, the most anti-environmental Congress in history," said Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy Committee.
Under the Republicans, the House has voted to:
* ban the EPA from placing limits on climate-warming pollution,
* reverse new fuel standards that were projected to slash dependence on foreign oil and thereby save Americans $1.7 trillion at the pump,
* end standards signed into law by President Bush that would phase out wasteful, high-wattage incandescent light bulbs.
Even more reckless, the House voted to block limits on deadly mercury emissions -- a move that federal scientists calculate would result in 20,000 premature deaths -- and drop safeguards on cement manufacturing that would kill another 12,500 Americans and lead to thousands of avoidable heart attacks.
Perhaps worst of all, in February the House passed a bill to block all new major regulations until the nation's unemployment rate falls to six% -- a measure that would choke off not only new environmental safeguards, but also the new limits on Wall Street recklessness required under Dodd-Frank.
Enrich Billionaires at the Expense of Everyone Else
House Republicans have voted three times to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts -- a move that would blow a $3.8 trillion hole in the budget over the next decade. In fact, the Ryan budget -- twice approved by the House -- goes even further, doling out another $2.5 trillion to the wealthiest Americans by reducing the tax rate on top earners from 35 to just 25 percent, lowering the corporate rate to 25 percent, and ending the alternative minimum tax, a safeguard against tax cheats.
Romney, in fact, wants to give away even more to the rich than Republicans in the House by permanently eliminating the estate tax -- a proposal that alarms veterans of the first Bush administration: "Given the vast amounts of wealth that have accumulated at the very, very, very top, it's an odd time to be eliminating this most progressive element of the tax system," says Michael Graetz, a former deputy assistant Treasury secretary under Bush. Over a decade, Romney's gift to the nation's most fortunate families would allow their heirs to pocket at least $1 trillion (including up to $50 million for Mitt's own heirs), all at the expense of the rest of America -- which means that those without family fortunes would see their taxes soar. Independent tax groups have concluded that the only way to replace the tax revenue lost by the proposed Ryan and Romney tax cuts would be to end tax breaks (like the one for home-mortgage interest) that directly benefit the middle class. And the poor would get the shaft as well: The Ryan budget slashes the Child Tax Credit, meaning that a single mother of two earning the minimum wage would watch her annual tax bill rise by more than $1,500.
If signed into law by President Romney, the Ryan budget would slash spending on college tuition grants by 42% next year and kick 1 million students out of the program. It would also gut funding for public schools, food and drug safety, basic science research, law enforcement and low-income housing. The cuts to food stamps alone would total $134 billion over the next decade. Ripping Ryan for trying to cloak his budget in Catholic doctrine, priests and faculty from Georgetown University wrote, "Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ."
There is one place, however, where Republicans want to increase spending: Under the most recent Ryan budget, the Pentagon would receive an extra $29 billion a year, thereby reversing Obama's modest efforts to slow the growth of defense spending.
Where Would the Extra Cash Come From?
In May, the House approved a Ryan bill to replace automatic cuts to the Pentagon under the debt-ceiling agreement with $261 billion in cuts to the federal safety net. This measure would deny food stamps to 1.8 million low-wage Americans, leave 280,000 kids without school lunches and cut off health care to 300,000 children living beneath the poverty line.
Cripple Health Care So As to Provide Massive Givebacks to the Rich
Republicans in the House have voted more than 30 times to repeal Obamacare -- a move that would deplete the Medicare trust fund eight years early, kick 6.6 million young adults off their parents' health insurance, annually cost seniors $700 more on average for prescription drugs, and make it legal once again for insurance companies to charge women more than men, and to rescind policies when people get sick. This would provide a massive giveback to the rich, handing over nearly $400 billion in tax revenues to those who earn above $250,000 a year.
To further boost profits for insurance companies, the House passed a Ryan plan to voucherize Medicare, thereby subjecting seniors to what you might call "profit extractions" by the private market. In the first year alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost to seniors would more than double, to $12,500 -- and taxpayers would not save a dime, since private insurers would be pocketing the extra money. By 2050, as inflation took its toll, buying a policy as good as present-day Medicare would cost an 85-year-old more than $50,000. (So what kind of "voucher' is going to pay that kind of cost?) The Ryan plan would also eviscerate Medicaid by turning federal contributions to the program into lump-sum "block grants" that states can administer as they see fit. The trouble is that these grants, like Medicare vouchers, simply can't and won't keep pace with soaring health care costs. In the first decade alone, therefore, the plan would bilk states out of $810 billion and deny health care to 30 million disabled Americans, seniors, and children living beneath the poverty line,.
The last time a Republican presidential candidate touted an agenda to cut spending, lower taxes, boost defense and balance the budget was Ronald Reagan in 1980. Like Romney and Ryan, Reagan didn't have an actual plan for his spending cuts -- they were merely an accounting fantasy, openly joked about. In the end, as promised, Reagan's tax cuts went through, and the Pentagon's budget soared. But the compensatory spending cuts never materialized -- so Reagan wound up tripling the nation's debt.
If it didn't work for Reagan, says his former budget director, it would be foolish to assume Romney and Ryan can do better. "The Republican record on spending control is so abysmally bad," Stockman says, "that at this point they don't have a leg to stand on." Indeed, the last GOP administration turned $5 trillion in projected surplus into $5 trillion of new debt.
No one doubts Ryan's determination to slash the social safety net: Of the $5.3 trillion in cuts he has proposed, nearly two-thirds come from programs for the poor. But when it comes time to eviscerate the rest of the federal budget -- i.e. funding for things like drug enforcement and public schools -- David Stockman says Congress will "never cut those programs that deeply." In other words, the rich will get their tax cuts, the poor will be left destitute, and America will be driven ever deeper into debt.
That, at heart, is the twisted beauty of the plan being championed by Ryan and Romney: The higher Republicans manage to drive up the debt, the more ammunition and excuses they have in their fight to slash federal spending for the needy. And the more time they waste trumpeting the cause of "fiscal discipline," the more the nation's infrastructure will continue to crumble around them.
What you have just read is a synopsis of Tim Dickenson's excellent article in a recent issue of Rolling Stone.
Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've always been more interested in political economics and what's going on behind the scenes in politics, than in mechanical engineering, and because of that I've rarely worked more than 8 months a year, devoting much of the rest of the year to reading and writing about that which interests me most.