Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ryan's ridiculous budget, Part 1

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to pass Paul Ryan's budget without any Democratic votes. Mitt Romney "applaud[s] it" and calls it "an excellent piece of work, and very much needed." Over the next few days/weeks, I'll examine various aspects of the budget. Sneak peak; there are some problems with it.

Today, let's look at the effects of the Republicans' budget on the discretionary budget. Ryan batches all discretionary spending together to include both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, along with "mandatory" spending. He takes several pages in his proposal discussing that cuts should not come from the military, leaving non-defense spending on the chopping block.

First off, non-defense discretionary spending includes just about everything that the government does except for Social Security, health care spending (Medicare/Medicaid), servicing the debt, and, of course, defense. It includes food stamps, Pell grants and other education aid, national parks, unemployment insurance, the EPA, housing assistance, and just about everything else you think of when you think of the government.

In the Congressional Budget Office analysis (.pdf, Table 2 on page 13) of the Republican plan, we see the long-term impact of Ryan's proposal relative to current law/policy. Under the Republican plan, total federal spending on defense and non-defense discretionary spending will fall from the current level of 12.5% of GDP to 3.75% by 2050, a 70% cut, or under half the percentage of GDP under current law.

What would a cap of 3.75% mean? Ryan famously stated a few years ago when asked about the implications of his policies, said "I'm a budgeteer; I just bring down the cap". But a 3.75% cap would devastate the millions of Americans who depend on all those programs listed above.

With the 3.75% cap including defense and non-defense spending, it's worth looking at the history of American military spending. Since World War 2, there have been only four years (1998-2001) where just defense spending was below this level all by itself. There is also the matter in the future of the rise of China as a true world superpower, with military spending increasing by 10% or more every year for the last two decades. It is foolish to think, given the history of such things in America, that we wouldn't respond to China's rise by exploding our own defense spending. But with caps in place and a Republican Party unwilling to raise them under any circumstances, vital domestic programs would be cut even further.

The Republican strategy, as previously discussed and as the "budgeteer" Ryan admitted, seems to be to only talk in vague, general terms about the implications of their policies and brush under the rug the actual effects on average Americans. Along with massive cuts to health care spending previously discussed, Republicans hope to "save" trillions of dollars from programs which mostly benefit the poor and middle-class. They would take these "savings" and give huge tax cuts to the wealthy, which we'll investigate tomorrow.

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