Slouching Towards Tampa (Ryan's Hope edition)

Mitt Romney’s “bold” decision to add Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket took his campaign’s previously one-dimensional tapioca flavor and added a distinct note of artificial vanilla extract.

The Romney campaign certainly needed some kind of boost. Following his calamitous Bland Tour of the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland, the increasingly ridiculous candidate came home to polling numbers that probably made him wish he’d stayed overseas. A Washington Post-ABC News poll put his favorable rating at 40%, unchanged since May, but found that his unfavorable, not great to begin with, had climbed from 45 to 49%. Worse still, only 41% of Republican respondents described their opinion of Romney as “strongly favorable” as against 61% of Democratic respondents who felt that way about the President.

Clearly, then, it was time to shore up support among the base, and maybe even create a little excitement. But how, and who? Christie? Portman? Jindal? Palin? Haley? Huckabee? Hutchison? Jointly and severally, no. Enter Paul Ryan, a Dick Grayson to Romney’s Bruce Wayne. Ryan was a surprising pick in a number of ways. For starters, he’s Catholic, making this the first Republican ticket in history not to include a Protestant (or two). Second, he’s part of the Congressional Republican power elite, and while Wisconsin election law allows him to run concurrently for his House seat, his loss in the national race this fall and what’s apt to be perpetual association of his name with Mitt Romney’s will only diminish his clout and tarnish his prestige among GOP true believers. Third, as he set about proving almost immediately after being named to the ticket, he might just end up being a bigger liability than Mitt Romney. Ryan’s tea baggage seems to get heavier by the day.

Ryan’s signature “accomplishment” to date is of course his proposed budget, rolled out to many an “ooh” and an “ah” back in March. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” (PDF here) is equal parts boilerplate, bromides and bullshit; in essence, the same concoction with which Republicans have been gulling their faithful and hoodwinking susceptible independents since well before the Reagan Revolution. As was the case with earlier heralds of a new and mercifully fictitious Republican Golden Age (Gingrich, Delay, etc.), Paul Ryan has no use for modestly:

This budget serves as a blueprint for American renewal. Its principled reforms empower individuals with greater control over their futures. It places great faith in the wisdom of the Founders and promises to renew confidence in the superiority of human freedom…

The Ryan plan’s unworkable and frequently downright absurd policy prescriptions are supported with the same old easily debunked clichés Republicans always resort to because they don’t dare just come out and admit that, while they might love it, they just don’t like their country:

… the unchecked growth of government has degraded its effectiveness and rendered its institutions incapable of meeting the challenges of the 21st Century.

The free enterprise system is being stifled by a federal bureaucracy fixated on depriving citizens of their ability to make social and economic decisions according to what is best for their own needs and interests.

The future of the nation’s health and retirement security programs is increasingly based on empty promises from a government unwilling to advance solutions that save and strengthen them…

The federal budget process has collapsed, allowing government to spend recklessly and throw tax dollars at problems on an ad hoc basis as the nation’s fiscal hole grown deeper.

And how does the intrepid Ryan plan address these phony crises?

Cuts spending… relative to President’s budget

Brings size of government to 20 percent of economy by 2015, allowing the private sector to grow and create jobs

… identifies strategy-driven savings, while funding defense at levels that keep America safe by providing $554 billion for the next fiscal year for national defense spending

Repeals President’s health care law; Advances bipartisan solutions that take power away from government bureaucrats and put patients in control; No disruption for those in or near retirement; Ensures a strengthened Medicare program for future generations…

After analyzing the Ryan budget, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called it as it saw it, and it did not see it kindly:

It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history)…

… the Ryan budget would impose extraordinary cuts in programs that serve as a lifeline for our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, and over time would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their health insurance or become underinsured.

… alongside [the] dismantling of key parts of the safety net, the budget features stunning new tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans… on top of the average tax cut of more than $125,000 a year that the Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimates that people who make over $1 million a year will receive if — as the Ryan budget also proposes —policymakers make all of President Bush’s tax cuts permanent.

In fact, TPC reported yesterday that the four major new tax cuts in the Ryan plan…  would cost $4.6 trillion in lost federal revenue over the next ten years…

The New York Times offered up a handy précis of the Ryan plan in real-world terms:

The House Budget Committee blueprint for spending and taxation over the next decade would reshape Medicare into a system of private insurance plans, shrink programs for the poor and turn them over to state governments, and try to simplify the tax code for individuals and businesses. The six existing tax rates, topping off at 35 percent, would be reduced to two, 10 percent and 25 percent, while states would be allowed to place time limits, work requirements and other restrictions on programs from food stamps to welfare.

Under the Ryan plan, spending would be cut $5.3 trillion below President Obama’s budget through 2022. Medicare would be shaved by $205 billion. Medicaid and other health programs would be cut $770 billion. Other entitlement programs, including welfare, food stamps, agriculture subsidies and transportation, would be cut by nearly $2 trillion. Budget experts said that last figure was so high it could only be reached by scaling back or eliminating payments to the working poor through the earned income credit.

Times columnist Paul Krugman felt personally vindicated by the Ryan plan, and was delighted to say so:

Way back in 2010 I declared that Paul Ryan — who was rapidly becoming the darling of the “fiscal responsibility” crowd — was a fraud, a flim-flam man…

His latest budget proposal… calls for huge tax cuts, supposedly offset by closing loopholes and ending tax expenditures — except that in a long report he fails to name a single tax expenditure that he would cut. It assumes drastic cuts in discretionary spending, basically eliminating everything except defense. And over the medium term, of course, it’s a plan to savage the poor while giving big tax breaks to the rich.

So actually two questions: are people finally willing to concede that Ryan is not now and has never been remotely serious? And — I know this is probably far too much to ask — are they going to do a bit of soul-searching over how they got snookered by this obvious charlatan?

Krugman’s rhetorical point was exquisitely if unknowingly bolstered by Peggy Noonan, who has a weakness for charlatans. Noonan, who has been dead wrong about absolutely every damned thing for going on 62 years now, thinks Paul Ryan is serious. Even funnier, she no doubt considers herself serious too:

Republicans know how meaningful this campaign became when Mr. Ryan was picked: He changed its subject matter just by showing up…

The more you see of Paul Ryan, the more you understand and appreciate his thinking…

Yes, that seriously does sound serious, but at least Ryan gets a Secret Service detail now, handy in case Noonan’s enthusiasm gets out of control. Of course, not all the media shared that enthusiasm. The very day Ryan was announced as Romney’s running mate, an editorial in the Times returned to his plan:

More than three-fifths of the cuts proposed by Mr. Ryan, and eagerly accepted by the Tea Party-driven House, come from programs for low-income Americans… billions of dollars lost for job training for the displaced, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry… cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation’s moral obligations…

… he has failed to explain how he would make [the poor] self-sufficient — how, in fact, a radical transformation of government would magically turn around an economy that is starving for assistance. At a time when state and local government layoffs are the principal factor in unemployment, the Ryan budget would cut aid to desperate governments by at least 20 percent, far below historical levels, on top of other cuts to mass transit and highway spending.

The campaign immediately put some daylight between Romney and the Ryan plan, but not because they’re ashamed of its disgraceful, moth-eaten ideas. Republicans have all trafficked in those same ideas for, oh, the last 30 fucking years, so I figure Romney just wants to recycle them in his own words, not Paul Ryan’s. Mitt was still magnanimous, at least in the sort of shrunken, puckered way Romney has of seeming magnanimous:

Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance.

If you feel like you just can’t wait to hear more, well, unfortunately you’re going to have to.  Romney and his young crony won’t be sharing details. Ever, in fact:

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan says he and Mitt Romney will wait until after they’re elected to disclose what tax loopholes they plan to get rid of…

Ryan says the GOP ticket wants to get feedback from Americans about what tax cuts should be kept and what loopholes to close.

After which they would presumably unveil their plan to get bin Laden.

Ryan – whose speech at his official unveiling included the ringing applause line: “We won’t duck the tough issues…we will lead!” – ducked another tough issue the following day when he sat down with Fox’s Brit Hume:

Asked by Hume when the Romney plan would balance the budget, Ryan said he didn’t know because “we haven’t run the numbers on that specific plan.”

Ah! Maybe that’s for the best, really. For all his bluster and blather about fiscal responsibility, Ryan doesn’t seem to be very good with numbers, or even much bothered with them. For example, it turns out that, contrary to his carefully manicured image, he seems to adore deficits, at least when the President is a Republican:

Since 2001 he has voted for at least 65 separate pieces of deficit- and debt-increasing legislation…

… From 2001 to 2008, Congress passed and President Bush signed legislation that increased the deficit (just in that period) by a cumulative $4 trillion (policies passed during those years added over $6 trillion to the deficits through 2011). Rep. Ryan voted for well over 90 percent of that…

In total, since 2001 Rep. Ryan voted for over $2.5 trillion worth of deficit-financed tax cuts.

… he voted in support of every single defense spending bill over the past 11 years. These votes… have added nearly $1.9 trillion to the deficit since 2001.

Rep. Ryan also voted numerous times to increase nondefense spending. Of course, the most well-known of these votes was on Medicare Part D, which added over $270 billion in unpaid-for spending. But there are many lesser-known examples. In 2002 he voted for an agriculture bill that added $80 billion to the deficit. He voted for changes to military retirement in 2003 that cost $20 billion in added spending. And he voted for increased borrowing authority for flood insurance that increased federal spending by $17 billion…

All told, Rep. Ryan voted in favor of increasing federal spending by $3.2 trillion—all without offsetting the costs. Combined with his support for $2.4 trillion in tax cuts, Ryan’s votes contributed to adding trillions of dollars to the national debt, which itself led to more spending as the interest payments on that debt grew. Put it all together, and Rep. Ryan voted for over $6.8 trillion worth of cumulative deficits over the past 11 years.

It’s strange that Peggy Noonan didn’t mention any of that. Could it be that Ryan’s simply not serious after all? Well, never mind; Noonan still has some plaudits in reserve:

Normally, Republican candidates for national office get to be either stupid or evil. That’s how the media and Democrats tag them. But they won’t be able to tag Paul Ryan as either, because he’s too well known as smart and decent.

Is he, now? Well, maybe it’s all a campaign strategy beyond the ken of the snarkoscenti, but from my worm’s-eye perspective, Ryan’s been keeping his smarts securely under wraps, on subjects ranging from the auto bailout:

Paul Ryan slammed President Obama on Thursday for failing to rescue an auto factory in his Wisconsin district — one that closed in 2008, under President George W. Bush.

To the stimulus:

Paul Ryan voted against President Obama’s federal stimulus bill, and has repeatedly attacked the legislation, calling it a “wasteful spending spree” and ”a monstrosity.” Thus, the revelation that he and several other Republicans asked for stimulus funds for companies in their district caused a minor stir when it was first reported by The Wall Street Journal in 2010. The issue was revived this week when the Boston Globe reported that Ryan wrote four letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu requesting stimulus money for two companies in his district to develop green jobs, which were both eventually awarded. In a 2010 interview and again on Thursday, Ryan indignantly declared that he’d never do such a thing. Then he admitted several hours later that upon further investigation, he definitely did ask for stimulus funds.

To foreign policy cred:

Speaking to Fox News’ Carl Cameron… Republican VP nominee Paul Ryan made the case for why he believes his foreign policy credentials are stronger than President Obama’s, emphasizing that he has been a voting member of Congress longer than the president. Ryan cited his votes in favor of the Iraq War as evidence that he has had more foreign policy experience than Obama.

“I’ve been in Congress for a number of years,” he told Cameron. “That’s more experience than Barack Obama had when he came into office.”

“I voted to send people to war,” he added.

All right, fine, then. He’s not smart. Surely he’s decent, no? That depends squarely on how one defines decency:

Ryan is firmly against abortion rights. He has an 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s largest anti-abortion rights organization. He co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a bill that would define human life as beginning at conception…

Ryan’s said he’s anti-same-sex marriage, and he’s voted against adoption rights for same-sex couples…

… Ryan has received an “A” record from the National Rifle Association for his stance and voting record on gun rights.

Ryan voted against the Dream Act, legislation that would offer a route to citizenship to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and had gone to college here…

But of course there’s more to decency than just regressive positions on social issues. How about, say, transparency regarding personal finances?

Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s new running mate, amended two years’ worth of congressional financial disclosure reports in June to include an income-producing trust worth between $1 million and $5 million, USA Today reports.

The trust, which Ryan’s wife Janna Ryan inherited in 2010 after her mother’s death, was previously left off Ryan’s financial disclosure reports. In documents filed with the Clerk of the House, Ryan said they were left off his 2010 and 2011 reports as an “inadvertent omission,” according to USA Today. He reported that the trust produced at least $15,000 in income in 2010 and between $100,001 and $1 million in 2011…

Ryan made the new disclosure as Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign was vetting his potential as a running mate…

Hmm. Well, how about consistency?

When his lawyer father died young, sadly, the high-school aged Ryan received Social Security survivor benefits. But they didn’t go directly to supporting his family; by his own account, he banked them for college… After his government-subsidized out-of-state education, the pride of Janesville [Wisconsin] left college and went to work for government, where he’s spent his entire career, first serving Republican legislators and then in his own Congressional seat, with occasional stints at his family-owned construction business when he needed a job (reportedly he also drove an Oscar Mayer Wiener Mobile for a while).

Ironically, Ryan came to national attention trying to dismantle the very program that helped him go to the college of his choice, pushing an even more radical version of President Bush’s Social Security privatization plan…

Wow. It’s starting to seem like Paul Ryan sort of, you know, sucks. And – darn the luck – lots of people agree:

Rep. Paul Ryan starts his vice presidential campaign in not-so-great territory, with Americans rating his selection more unfavorably than any pick since at least 2000, according to a new poll.

The USA Today/Gallup poll shows 42 percent rate Mitt Romney’s selection of Ryan (R-Wis.) as “fair” or “poor,” while 39 percent rate it as “excellent” or “pretty good.”

Those numbers are worse than the initial reactions to both Dick Cheney in 2000 and Sarah Palin in 2008. And they appear to be the worst since Dan Quayle in 1988 (according to a different pollster). All three Republicans wound up being very unpopular in the following years…

At the same time, the Gallup poll shows Ryan is seen as presidential, with 48 percent saying he is qualified to be president if the situation arose and just 29 percent saying he is not.

And Mitt Romney must believe Paul Ryan is qualified to be president, right? Or maybe not:

Three years ago, Mitt Romney proposed a constitutional amendment that would say “the president has to spend three years working in business before he becomes president of the United States. Then he or she would understand that the policies they are putting into place have to encourage small business to grow.”

Even combined, Ryan’s “occasional stints at his family-owned construction business” and his sojourns in the Wiener Mobile wouldn’t meet that threshold, but Ryan needn’t worry about Romney’s amendment. His chances of getting into the White House hinge entirely on whether President Obama can stomach any more of his company and invites him over some time.