Thursday, April 7, 2011

"A Political, and Not an Economic, Plan"

A Sullivan reader (have you seen his new website since he moved from The Atlantic to The Daily Beast?) takes Andrew to task for not seeing the more sinister scheme at play in Paul Ryan's budget "plan":
[I]t is the culmination of about a thirty year Republican strategy called "starve the beast," by which Republicans have worked to reduce taxes and increase the national deficit as large as possible - all to create the supposed "deficit crisis" that we now face and to use that crisis to eliminate programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and a slew of other programs (EPA, SEC, Planned Parenthood, collective bargaining, etc.) that the Republican class has never been able to eliminate through the democratic process.
Andrew's response, that he has acknowledged the political undertones in his objections to a budget plan with no revenue generation dimension, feels slippery to me. Indeed, the last bit has me worried about his slipping further to the right:
From Reagan to W, with the great exception of George HW Bush, Republicans have told us we can have our cake and eat it. That's not the tone of Ryan's austerity. And that alone is worth something.
No, the tone of Ryan's austerity is not some noble plan that suggests, "Hey, we Republicans are willing to take bold steps to right our listing federal ship." Ryan's austerity, timed to coincide with Obama's announcement of a re-election campaign and an impending federal government shutdown, suggests something more like, "It is the Democrats, especially President Obama, who have gotten us into this mess, and we Republicans are trying to do something to stop the damage they're causing." It's cynical, and it attempts to gloss over the truth that the fiscal irresponsibility of Republicans have created the mess we're in: from drastic tax cuts for wealthy Americans and corporations; to a multi-trillion dollar Medicare program that was unpaid for; to two unpaid-for, immoral, and unnecessarily long war efforts costing trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives (to say nothing of the millions of Iraqis and Afghans who have died); to unfettered deregulation of the financial sector which led to the most disgusting excesses in world history and the disappearance of trillions in middle class wealth (indeed, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky seem petty in retrospect when seeing Enron, WorldCom, and Bernie Madoff). It is well-known to anyone with a functioning brain and an interest in domestic affairs that Republicans believe government to be the ultimate problem, and shutting it down by cutting off funds is their way to accomplish their decades-old agenda. On CNN this morning, Donald Trump himself said that Ryan's plan, and the Republicans who are standing behind it, are going out "way, way too far" (sorry, no link yet). He doesn't have a plan yet himself (and I agree with him that, since he's not a candidate yet, he shouldn't sound off at this point), but he's right that there is a serious lack of leadership, both in Congress and in the White House, to tackle the problem. I don't want to reverse my earlier position that Ryan's plan, such as it is, is at least a starting point, but let's be very careful not to call this a serious attempt to handle our budget problem. If it were serious, there would be a generous amount of revenue-generating ideas to balance out the drastic cost-cutting measures. Without any idea on how to raise revenue (other than the sure-fire failure of supply-side economics), the plan is a cruel attack on the middle class.

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