Let's talk budget! Yes, the wonky wonderland of the federal budget, with page after page of numbers — what fun, eh?
No. Most people would prefer a root canal to a budget discussion (indeed, I've heard that some dentists use a recording of budget numbers to anesthetize their root-canal patients — everything from the neck up quickly goes numb). But Paul Ryan is different.
The GOP's vice presidential nominee is touted as Mr. Budget, a guy who gets excited by running his fingers through fiscal things. That's why the Washington cognoscenti have declared him to be "serious," rather than just another political opportunist riding the right-wing wave of tea party ridiculousness.
Being branded as "serious" means never having to admit you're a flim-flam man. Thus, the widely ballyhooed Ryan Budget is called "honest" and "responsible" by insiders who obviously haven't run the numbers on it.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, however, has tallied Ryan's budgetary giveaways to the rich and take-backs from the middle-class and the poor. Far from balancing the federal budget, as the self-proclaimed deficit hawk claims, the analysts found that Ryan's plan increases the federal deficit. And not by a little, but by about $2.5 trillion! So, yes, he is serious — serious as a snakebite.
Then there was Ryan's explosive admission recently that the budget plan of his presidential partner, Mitt Romney, is also a con game. Despite Romney's repeated assertion that — by golly — his nifty plan will balance the federal budget in only eight years, Ryan confessed that they don't really know that, because "we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan."
Say what? What? Hello — a budget is nothing but numbers — numbers that have, in fact, been run! Otherwise, it's just a political hoax.
During his run in the presidential primaries this spring, when he was trolling for votes in the shallow waters of the Republican fringe, Romney embraced the Ryan budget, calling it a "bold and exciting effort" that is "very much needed." And, hoping to glom onto Ryan's "wow" appeal to the hyper-energized right wing, Romney brought Mr. Budget onboard for the fall run — with one interesting condition: The veep candidate has had to jettison his budget.
That document, which Ryan had rammed through the U.S. House in 2011, would have provided another gold mine for the one-percenters, with millionaires-and-up averaging around $300,000 a year in tax breaks. The rest of us would've gotten the shaft, including tax increases, privatization of Medicare, deep cuts in student aid and job training programs, and federal abandonment of food stamps and health care for the poor.
Yet Ryan is on the Republican presidential ticket specifically because his budget whackery has enthralled the GOP's far right. Anti-government guru Grover Norquist, for example, has gushed that the six-term Wisconsin congress-critter would be the Dick Cheney of economic policy. Sheesh — that's not a threat to be taken lightly!
But the very bauble that got him to the GOP's No. 2 political slot turns out to be so widely and wildly unpopular with voters in the deeper waters of the general election that it's already been trashed by the party's No. 1. "I have my own budget plan," Romney backpedaled the day after he knighted Sir Ryan, "and that's the budget plan we're going to run on." Yes, the budget with no numbers.
That aside, it's kind of strange (and a bit unsettling) to see a candidate for president straining to explain that he's the one in charge, not the young ideologue. Romney even went on national TV to tell us that, while Ryan would certainly be among the people he asks for advice, "I have to make the final call in important decisions." Sure, Mitt — you da man! But was he trying to convince us ... or himself? Or Ryan?
Embarrassingly, at the staged event where Romney introduced his VP selectee, he bungled his line, presenting Ryan as "the next president of the United States." Was that just another Romney gaffe? A Freudian slip? Or an eerie moment of candor?
After all, Romney has no unwavering principles or solid commitment to any policy except, "Elect me, and I'll lower my taxes." Republican leaders are now trying to downplay Ryan's extremism, but if they were honest with voters, their bumper sticker would read: "Ryan-Romney in 2012."