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redeyechicago.com

Ryan Budget Makes for Great Unintentional Satire

Stephen Markley

10:18 AM CDT, March 12, 2013

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You know how these popular political shows like “Scandal” and “House of Cards” are always trying to keep the hokey out of their political characters? For instance, my roommate is obsessed with re-watching “The West Wing” on Netflix right now, and it got me thinking, if any of these shows introduced a character as flamboyantly cruel, simple-minded, and ideologically right wing as Paul Ryan, the producers would have to say, “C’mon, let’s not be a bunch of Hollywood liberals making a cartoon character Republican who wants to steal from the poor to give to the rich.”

Yet Ryan does the work for them every time he releases a budget. This year’s is more classic Ryan, suggesting that we facing such a massive crisis with our debt-to-GDP ratio that we should immediately enact a massive tax cut for the wealthy by dropping the top marginal rate from 39.6% to 25%. In terms of balancing the budget, sure—and why not drive from Chicago to Phoenix in order to get to Boston!

Unspecified “tax reforms” supposedly make up the difference, but the budget names none of these. What it does single out for decimation is Medicaid as well as the Obamacare subsidies to families above the poverty line but still struggling to afford healthcare. It would allow states to rescind eligibility and cut benefits for food stamp recipients, student loans, Pell Grants, and other forms of domestic discretionary spending in the areas of infrastructure, housing, and education.

“Seriously, guys,” this effete Hollywood producer would tell his writers, “we can’t just have this fake Republican character writing in neo-Ayn Randian language suggesting that Pell Grants and health care for poor people is the equivalent of bland Soviet-style repression. We’re gonna look stupid.”

But this is typical of Ryan’s prose style when he writes:

So the duty of government is not to displace… communities, but to support them. It isn’t to blunt their differences or to flatten their character—to mash them all together into a dull conformity. It’s to secure our individual rights and to protect that diversity.

Which is a really roundabout way of saying you want to restructure government’s relationship with welfare programs in order to direct those programs directly to the extremely wealthy and away from the middle class and working poor.

“But no!” our pinko Hollywood progressive would protest, “That’s too comically evil. The Republican Party is not some collection of nutty rich people only concerned with cutting their own taxes and carrying water for millionaires. Income inequality, as demonstrated by this fantastic video, is clearly the first and foremost economic problem we face because it’s such a drag on growth. It’s obvious that some simple investment in infrastructure, research, and education would likely erase most of our economic difficulties by spurring growth. Even conservative economists keep saying that austerity is a stupid idea.”

The secret being that Ryan and the right don’t actually care about deficits or debt. If they did, at some point they would have taken President Obama up on some of his more ridiculous offers to cut entitlements in return for insanely small tax hikes on the wealthy. Republicans, however, can’t even fathom exchanging tax loopholes for private jets in return for reform that makes Democrats tear their hair out. Furthermore, you can just go ahead and dismiss any argument about deficits that doesn’t begin by talking about the major future driver of those deficits: medical costs.

For some reason, the journalist Steven Brill got a lot of attention and huzzahs for his TIME Magazine piece on health care costs (and good for him, don’t get me wrong). But basically every serious policy analyst has been saying this for a decade: the Medical-industrial complex is making a savage profit from hospitals, drugs, and medical equipment because the government has no power to control costs with rate-setting unlike every other industrialized country on the face of the planet. You want to solve the "spending" problem? Pass more health care reform.

Or let’s get “The West Wing 2” on the air. It can feature a sniveling, hand-wringing antagonist named Saul Pryan, who has a plan to cut taxes for the rich while kicking 35 million people off their health care.