Ryan’s Austerity Budget

Duncan Black seems to be the only person who regularly tries to remind people that Republicans won big in 2010 by criticizing Democrats for trying to take away Medicare.  What’s so bizarre about Ryan’s budget plan, which includes a massive privatization and the effective destruction of Medicare for everyone under 55, is that it ignores what was for the GOP good politics in favor of a policy agenda rife with political risk. Duncan writes:

For some reason only crazy liberal bloggers watching political campaign ads on the teevee in their basements noticed that GOP candidates’ only semi-substantive issue in the last election was an attack on Obama Medicare cuts. And they went hard on it. And old people freaked.

David Brooks says the Ryan budget, “will become the 2012 Republican platform, no matter who is the nominee.” As Ryan moves his plan forward and it becomes the center of debate, Democrats have the opening to basically do exactly what the GOP did in 2010. Dems can run on defending Medicare and while correctly attack Republicans for wanting to take it away.

Ezra Klein points out that even if Ryan doesn’t get everything he wants, a “compromised” version of his plan would still be a huge win for Republicans seeking to destroy social programs in the US:

Ryan is beginning the debate far to the right. He won’t get everything he wants, but if he gets 50 percent of what he wants, or even 35 percent, it’ll be the most dramatic victory that conservatives have scored against the social safety net in a generation — larger, at least in dollar terms, than anything done to welfare in 1996.

The one wrinkle in this is that for the most part would be an outcome the White House would be fine with. After all, it was the president who put together a deficit commission, which Paul Ryan served on. The details on what a solution look like may be different, but Obama and Ryan do share the belief that entitlement spending is a problem that needs to be solved now. As Atrios wrote a few days ago, “one party says big spending cuts are necessary but sorta sad, one party says spending cuts are necessary and awesome.”

All of this adds up to a bizarre situation where politically Democrats are in a position to protect Medicare and other entitlement programs, while ideologically the people controlling the Democratic Party seem unlikely to actually use this political advantage, as they too want to see spending cuts. It’s not shocking to me that Republicans want to speed up the transfer of wealth from working people to wealthy elites; this is who they are and they’ve never been shy about it. What is incredibly frustrating and disempowering is the extent to which Democrats will, in some way or another, end up going along with this because they too want the same outcome, they’ll just feel a bit worse about it. Sure, they’ll want to be seen as opposing it, but unless the counter-offer from Democrats is not only making no cuts, but expanding spending for the social safety net, this opposition will be based on the premise set by the Republicans that there is a budget crisis and a deficit crisis and cuts must be made (but never raising revenues!). I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not ready to be optimistic about how Ryan’s budget will be fought against.

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