The Romney-Ryan Plan for America
Less than 24 hours after Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday, his campaign was already trying to distance itself from Mr. Ryan’s politically toxic budget plan. His budget is not ours, the campaign said; Mr. Romney “will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance.”
It’s no wonder that Mr. Romney does not want to take full responsibility for his running mate’s ideas. Mr. Romney hasn’t issued a real budget plan and appears to have no interest in doing so before the election, perhaps for fear that voters might realize how little they would like it. Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, has assembled two spending plans, both of which were passed by the House. While the country is fortunate they were never enacted, they reveal Republican priorities in a way that Mr. Romney up to now has avoided.
Most voters know little about Mr. Ryan. Those who have heard of him are probably most familiar with his Medicare plan, which would turn the program into a voucher system that would pay beneficiaries a fixed amount for their medical care, leaving them on their own if the voucher did not cover their costs.
This notion so alarmed the public last year that Mr. Ryan was forced to backtrack and leave the existing Medicare system as an option. Even so, the plan would leave older Americans on average with $6,400 in extra costs by 2022, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Even less familiar to voters are Mr. Ryan’s plans for the rest of the federal budget, which if anything are worse than his Medicare proposal. By cutting $6 trillion from federal spending over the next 10 years, he would eliminate or slash so many programs that the federal government would be unrecognizable. That has long been a goal of the Tea Party ideologues who support Mr. Ryan fervently, but it is not one shared by anywhere near a majority of Americans.
As House Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan drew a blueprint for a government that would be absent when people needed it the most. Medicaid, food stamps, and other vital programs would be offloaded to the states, but the states would not be given the resources to run them. The federal government simply would not be there to help the unemployed who need job training, or struggling students who seek college educations. Washington would be unable to respond when a city cannot properly treat its sewage, or when the poor and uninsured overload emergency rooms as clinics close.
More than three-fifths of the cuts proposed by Mr. Ryan come from programs for low-income Americans. These cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops protested the proposal as failing to meet society’s moral obligations, saying the plans “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors.”
To Mr. Ryan, the poor will benefit when they no longer rely on government handouts. But his plans contain no pathway to self-reliance for the tens of millions of people who are either poor, unemployed or uninsured. In his world, they will be entirely on their own, or will rely on charity.
He certainly can’t pretend to turn around the economy by eliminating the deficit. Mr. Ryan’s budget would not reach a surplus for 30 years, according to the C.B.O., because he would cut taxes, largely for the rich and for corporations, by $4 trillion. That’s even more than Mr. Romney’s extravagant tax giveaways, because Mr. Ryan would erase all capital gains taxes. Since investments are the principal income generators for Mr. Romney and millions of other high earners, Mr. Romney made the more prudent choice to cut capital gains taxes only for the middle class.
There may be other differences between the two men on the Republican ticket, but Mr. Romney’s deliberate obfuscations of his plans will make them difficult to discern. Up to now, for example, their Medicare plans have been identical, but Mr. Romney has also said he would issue his own Medicare plan at some point this fall, keeping voters in the dark.
Whatever his political considerations were, Mr. Romney made a clear statement in choosing the most extreme of the vice-presidential possibilities, both in Mr. Ryan’s economic views and his positions on social issues, like his opposition to contraception coverage under the health care reform law for employees of religiously affiliated institutions, repeal of the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy, and sensible gun control. More than any small differences that eventually develop between the men, it is their shared and troubling goals that bind them together.