I am fond of quoting Matt Yglesias about the Quaker budget hawks. In it, he compares Fix the Debt to a group of Quakers who claim to be for balancing the federal budget but who are against any proposals that don’t involve reducing military spending. You would have to say that the Quakers are just pacifists who are using the budget deficit as a ruse. And so it is with Fix the Debt: they don’t want to balance the budget; they want to cut entitlements and lower taxes.
But it isn’t just Fix the Debt. The entire conservative infrastructure is involved in this game. And no one is a better symbol of it than Paul Ryan with his new “plan” to balance the budget in ten years. Let’s just look at the extreme hypocrisy of his approach to the ACA (Obamacare). Ezra Klein explains, “Ryan’s version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance, as without those policies, it is very, very difficult for Ryan to hit his deficit-reduction targets.”
This is a strange kind of conservative thinking. When it is to their advantage, they talk up incentives. We couldn’t, for example, bail out underwater homeowners because that would create a moral hazard. We are told that incentives matter. Yet when it comes to Ryan’s new budget, the assumption is that the people won’t mind if new taxes, which were levied to pay for a new program, stick around while the program itself goes away. If this were true, we could balance the budget by killing Social Security and Medicare but leaving the payroll tax in place. That, my friends, is exactly what Ryan is doing with his new budget.
It is no secret what Paul Ryan and the rest of the conservatives are all about. Eugene Robinson puts it bluntly, “If Rep. Paul Ryan wants people to take his budget manifestos seriously, he should be honest about his ambition: not so much to make the federal government fiscally sustainable as to make it smaller.” Of course, that isn’t the whole story: they want to reduce the size of government when it comes to spending on the poor; when it comes to the rich, they want to spend ever more. Remember: what diferentiates Democrats and Republicans is what they want to spend money on, not how much they want to spend.
In an article this morning, Ezra Klein sums up Ryan’s budget in three sentences:
He cuts deep into spending on health care for the poor and some combination of education, infrastructure, research, public-safety, and low-income programs. The Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts remain, but the military is spared, as is Social Security. There’s a vague individual tax reform plan that leaves only two tax brackets—10 percent and 25 percent—and will require either huge, deficit-busting tax cuts or increasing taxes on poor and middle-class households, as well as a vague corporate tax reform plan that lowers the rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.
Is that clear? Basically, it comes down to this: cut programs for the poorer classes, raise taxes on the poorer classes, and lower taxes on the rich. There are many ways to create a budget. Ryan and the conservatives choose to do it in a way that almost everyone would agree is morally upside down.
I still love the pretend deficit hawk Quakers because their hearts are in the right place; they are trying to shrink the war machine. But the pretend deficit hawk conservatives are another thing altogether. They want to take from the poor and give to the rich. And that’s just immoral.