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Today's Top News
Paul Ryan's Sham Budget Reflects GOP Deficit-Cutting Mania
Tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich; budget cuts for Medicare and Medicaid – how cynical can the congressman be?
If you want to see House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan sanctimoniously excuse himself and his friends for missing the most predictable economic crisis in the history of the world, you now have the opportunity. In a YouTube video produced by his staff, Ryan tells viewers that the crisis called by the collapse of the housing bubble caught "us" by surprise.
Well, it didn't actually catch us by surprise. Some of us had been warning about the potential damage caused by the collapse of the bubble since 2002. We repeatedly tried to warn of the dangers of the housing bubble in whatever forum we had.
It was easy to see that the housing market was hugely over-valued and that, at some point, it would collapse – just as the stock bubble had collapsed in 2000-2002. It was also easy to see that its collapse would have a devastating impact on the economy.
The bubble was driving the economy both directly, by propelling a construction boom, and indirectly, through the impact of housing bubble wealth on consumption. When the bubble burst, there would be nothing to replace this bubble-driven demand. It would be necessary to run the sort of large government budget deficits that we have seen the last four years in order to sustain the economy and keep the unemployment rate out of double digits.
All of this was 100% predictable and predicted. However, Representative Ryan wants to give himself the blanket "who could have known?" amnesty because he and his Wall Street friends chose to ignore the people who were giving the warnings. Ryan should apply a variation on the sanctimonious lines in his video to himself:
"Imagine being warned about an economic crisis that would throw more than 10 million people out of work and cause millions to lose their home and doing nothing. Imagine that our politicians in Congress and the White House chose to do nothing while there was still time, because it would have been bad politics to upset the Wall Street banks who were making so much money. They, instead, chose to ignore the warnings. That is immoral."
While some of us were putting in overtime and missing sleep trying to warn about the dangers of the housing bubble, Representative Ryan and his cronies were whining about a budget deficit that was almost non-existent. The budget deficits that the government was running in the years just before the collapse of the housing bubble were less than 2% of GDP (pdf). The debt-to-GDP ratio was actually falling. We could have run deficits of this magnitude forever.
After contributing, through his negligence, to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Representative Ryan has the gall to imply that the people who don't like his plan now are immoral. While the specifics of his new plan this year have only just been announced, we know what he put on the table last year.
According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, that plan would have raised the cost to the country of buying Medicare-equivalent insurance policies by $34tn over Medicare's 75-year planning period. It would also have led to huge cuts in Medicaid, denying healthcare to children, as well as other budget cuts that would have worsened the situation of low- and moderate-income children. And to offset these spending cuts, Representative Ryan promised big tax breaks to corporations and the richest people in the country. His budget proposed lowering the tax rate on both to just 25%.
If we can skip the sanctimony, let's just say what every budget wonk knows to be true. We don't have a budget problem; we have a healthcare cost problem. If per person healthcare costs in the United States were in line with those in any other wealthy country, we would be looking at huge budget surpluses, not deficits.
The answer lies not in cutting back, and/or eliminating Medicaid and Medicare, but in fixing the healthcare system. That's the simple truth – and to try to contend otherwise is immoral, Representative Ryan.