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The Progressive

Paul Ryan Keeps Up the Bad Work

The deficit hawks just won't quit. Never mind that the deficit is actually shrinking steadily as a share of GDP.

"Debt Threat!" screamed a typical banner on CNBC this morning, where a full-employment program for the pundits of economic doom is under way, with constant warnings about the debt and deficits.

No wonder cable viewers don't know that the deficit is actually decreasing.

The Congressional Budget Office expects the deficit for the 2013 fiscal year to be $845 billion--that's on track with a steady decline since the height of the current recession in 2009, when the deficit reached $1.4 trillion.

As Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, and other economists keep pointing out, economic recovery shrinks annual deficits, and therefore the cumulative national debt, while austerity programs, like those Europe has imposed, will torpedo growth and destroy individual lives and whole national economies.

But forget reality. On Tuesday Paul Ryan will release his latest budget plan, aiming to balance the budget in ten years by making $5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, food assistance for the poor, and other domestic programs--and through his signature plan: Medicare privatization.

Ryan's budget will also include that old dead horse, repealing ObamaCare.

The ObamaCare detail, dismissed even by Republicans as a nonstarter, is particularly dishonest because Ryan is actually back to embracing the cuts to Medicare included in that law that he bashed during the 2012 Presidential election.

Ryan has quietly reinserted the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare reimbursements for hospitals and insurance companies that he had in his original budget plan--but denounced when the President included it in ObamaCare as an attack on seniors.

He is sticking with his promise that he won't make any changes to Medicare for people over the age of 55 (a promise he has repeated again and again at town hall meetings, but that his staff indicated he was recently reconsidering).

Ryan is trying to have it both ways: In order to make his goal of balancing the budget in 10 years, he happily relies upon the Medicare cuts contained in ObamaCare--but still says he'll "repeal" the law. His budget also gets a boost from the tax hikes on the very rich that passed in January, which he opposed on ideological grounds.

And the continued economic recovery makes it possible, on paper, to claim to reach a balanced budget.

But if the Ryan plan ever really went into effect, the actual effects on the economy would be disastrous.

The House Republicans will embrace Ryan's extreme austerity agenda, knowing full well that it will never go anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

What is more worrying is the deal Ryan says he thinks he can make with the President.

Ryan emerged from a lunch with the President last week saying he thinks a deal on spending cuts is possible. That's not good news.

Senator Bernie Sanders has been working hard to pull together a coalition of working people, veterans, and seniors, to sound the alarm about Obama's willingness to cut a deal on so-called chained CPI--a rejiggering of the cost-of-living calculation that would mean big cuts in Social Security benefits for seniors.

Even as Paul Ryan gets his moment in the spotlight this week for a plan that will go nowhere, what we should really be worried about is what the President is doing to strike a deal with the deficit hawks to solve a nonexistent problem and exacerbate suffering for millions of Americans who can afford it the least.

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. Se moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Follow her on Twitter: @rconniff

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