This article originally appeared at The Washington Spectator
Before he was Speaker, before he grew the Hugh Jackman beard, before we knew he was a Rage Against the Machine fan and that his playlist “starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin,” Paul Ryan was a budget wonk.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan created a series of biennial federal budgets for successive Congresses, each entitled “The Path to Prosperity.”
None was ever signed into law because a) there are enough Democrats in the Senate to block them and b) because Barack Obama would veto any Ryan budget that might cross his desk.
Take a moment to think about that second factor, in this context:
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley has advanced a theory about the role of a 21st- century Democratic president. As Brinkley describes it, one important role is essentially curatorial. Unable to push major legislation through a Congress dominated by the Republican Party, the president stands as a firewall between Congress and the safety-net policies enshrined in FDR’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
That’s what this presidential election is about. Tom Price now chairs the Budget Committee, but the Ryan budget lives, under the same Path to Prosperity rubric.
Obama has been a “progressive firewall against an energized Republican Party,” Brinkley told me––and a big part of that was blocking the Ryan budget.
Don’t look for a firewall when President Trump, Cruz, Rubio, or Christie is elected.
Here are a few items from Paul Ryan’s Path to Austerity, er, Prosperity, budget.
- College Student Aid. Since 1972, Pell Grants have represented the nation’s commitment to college funding for low-income American students. Based strictly on need, they are grants that do not have to be repaid. The Ryan budget would begin with a 7.5 percent reduction in grants that would ramp up to 22 percent by 2022. Funding of Pell Grants will be discretionary rather than mandatory.
- Health Care for the Elderly. Over the years, Ryan’s budgets have targeted Medicare, offering in its stead a voucher program for retirees using the federal/state health insurance program. Retirees would be offered the option to receive government vouchers to buy health care in the private market. Consider it the opposite of the public-option, single-payer plan that we never got in the Affordable Care Act. The tens of millions of retirees who opt to stay in the traditional Medicare program will pay higher premiums as funding is siphoned away.
- Health Care for the Poor. The budget would repeal the Medicaid expansion provision in the Affordable Care Act, which has extended the low-income health insurance program to 6 million, though only 31 states (and the District of Columbia) have signed on. (Republican governors and legislatures in 20 states are holding out.)
But wait: There’s more. Food stamp funding would be reduced. As would funds for unemployment insurance. The various iterations of the Ryan budgets have gone after Social Security from different angles.
And not only budgets will be cut. Taxes, too, will come down. Those who would prosper most along this Path to Prosperity are the wealthiest Americans, whose tax rates would fall from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. And big corporations, which would see tax rates decline from 35 percent to 25 percent.
Democratic politicians who make these arguments are accused of engaging in the politics of fear.
And rage against Ryan’s machine.