Makers, Takers, and Liars

Igor Volsky reports on Paul Ryan’s interview, yesterday, on Meet the Press, where he predicted the sequester cuts will happen but proposed nothing to avoid them. “The tone represents a sharp rhetorical and policy shift for the onetime GOP vice presidential nominee, who warned during the 2012 presidential campaign that the cuts would “devastate” the country and undermine job growth.”

RYAN: If Mitt Romney and I won the election, they would not have happened. You know why? Because we would have gone and worked with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to actually put the budget on a path to balance and would have saved defense. So where are we now? I think the sequester is going to happen because that $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, we can’t lose those spending cuts. [...] But we think these sequesters will happen because the Democrats have opposed our efforts to replace those cuts with others and they’ve offered no alternatives.

In fact, Democrats introduced offsets in the hopes of reaching a grand bargain that could turn off the sequester and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

Days before House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) abandoned negotiations with President Obama to advance his failed Plan B, the White House paired a tax increase on the richest Americans with spending cuts of $1.22 trillion over 10 years, including “adopting a new measure of inflation that slows the growth of government benefits, especially Social Security.” Despite Ryan’s claims, the Democrats’ plan contained: $400 billion in savings “from federal health care programs; $200 billion from other so-called mandatory programs, like farm price supports, not subject to Congress’s annual spending bills; $100 billion from military spending; and $100 billion from domestic programs under Congress’s annual discretion.”

Paul Ryan is a failed vice-presidential candidate, Ayn Rand worshipper, and head priest of the Makers and Takers theology of the GOP. Why is he still given a platform like Meet the Press? Because the Republican Party is in shambles and leaderless. It is without a center. Everyone with something to say is given equal time. There’s also seems to be an attempt to “repackage the message” going on with the Republican Party. Nothing is changing, of course. It’s just a new ad campaign to sell continued tax cuts for the wealthy by dressing it up with a nod towards “populism.”

Paul Krugman explains:

Mr. Jindal posed the problem in a way that would, I believe, have been unthinkable for a leading Republican even a year ago. “We must not,” he declared, “be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive.” After a campaign in which Mitt Romney denounced any attempt to talk about class divisions as an “attack on success,” this represents a major rhetorical shift.

But Mr. Jindal didn’t offer any suggestions about how Republicans might demonstrate that they aren’t just about letting the rich keep their toys, other than claiming even more loudly that their policies are good for everyone.

Meanwhile, back in Louisiana Mr. Jindal is pushing a plan to eliminate the state’s income tax, which falls most heavily on the affluent, and make up for the lost revenue by raising sales taxes, which fall much more heavily on the poor and the middle class. The result would be big gains for the top 1 percent, substantial losses for the bottom 60 percent. Similar plans are being pushed by a number of other Republican governors as well.

[...] when Mr. Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks, he wasn’t, in his own mind, saying anything outrageous or even controversial. He was just repeating a view that has become increasingly dominant inside the right-wing bubble, namely that a large and ever-growing proportion of Americans won’t take responsibility for their own lives and are mooching off the hard-working wealthy. Rising unemployment claims demonstrate laziness, not lack of jobs; rising disability claims represent malingering, not the real health problems of an aging work force.

And given that worldview, Republicans see it as entirely appropriate to cut taxes on the rich while making everyone else pay more.

Now, national politicians learned last year that this kind of talk plays badly with the public, so they’re trying to obscure their positions. Paul Ryan, for example, has lately made a transparently dishonest attempt to claim that when he spoke about “takers” living off the efforts of the “makers” — at one point he assigned 60 percent of Americans to the taker category — he wasn’t talking about people receiving Social Security and Medicare. (He was.)

So what was Lyin’ Paul Ryan’s big message yesterday?

We don’t want a dependency culture. We want a safety net that makes sure that people don’t fall through the cracks, that gets people on their feet. Americans want the American Dream. And so our concern in this country is with the idea that more and more able-bodied people are becoming dependent upon the government than upon themselves for their livelihoods. We want to make sure that we don’t continue that trend.”

On what programs are actually making people dependent on government, Ryan gave the example of people using food stamps who don’t need them.

Jonathan Chait discusses John Boehner’s concession “to the looniest wing of the Republican party” by committing himself “to passing a budget that would reach full balance within a decade.” How do you reach $800 billion in savings by 2023 without any new revenue and without cutting Social Security and Medicare (for those 55 and above)?

You have, mainly, programs for the poor and very sick, like Medicaid, child nutrition, unemployment benefits, and so on. Then you have domestic discretionary spending, which is basically all the major functions of government that aren’t either defense or writing a check to people — infrastructure, food inspectors, scientific research, and on and on. Republicans have already forced Obama to accept extremely tight caps that would cut domestic discretionary spending to well below its lowest level as a share of the economy in decades. How those caps would actually be implemented when it comes time to impose the cuts, I can’t imagine.

But that’s the pot of available savings. It’s around a trillion and a half dollars in 2023. So, that means House Republicans will have to cut domestic discretionary programs and spending for the poor by about half.

Now, if you assume that Republicans aren’t going to actually figure out how to go further than the domestic discretionary cuts they’ve already voted for — I doubt they can actually carry those out — then the available pool of spending is the $900 billion-some dollars spent on programs for the poor and sick: Medicaid, food stamps, etc. So we’re looking at close to a 90 percent spending cut on programs for the poor and sick. I suppose Paul Ryan could spin this as a super-compassionate plan to help starving children and people with awful diseases learn to stop being moochers and take care of themselves.

[...] the inescapable fact is that Boehner has committed now to voting on something that would require even more draconian cuts to social spending than the Ryan budget.

Pat Garofalo explains what the “new message” actually means in practice to ordinary folks, using Jindal’s new tax plan (replacing personal income and corporate taxes with an increased sales tax):

According to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Jindal’s plan will raise taxes on the bottom 80 percent of Louisianians, while cutting them for the richest 1 percent:

– The bottom 80 percent of Louisianans in the income distribution would see a tax increase from repealing the personal and corporate income taxes and replacing them with a higher sales tax.

– The poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, those with an average income of $12,000, would see an average tax increase of $395, or 3.4 percent of their income, if no low income tax relief mechanism is offered.

– The middle 20 percent, those with an average income of $43,000, would see an average tax increase of $534, or 1.2 percent of their income.

– The largest beneficiaries of the tax proposal would be the top 1 percent—a group with an average income of well over $1 million. Louisianans in the top 1 percent would see an average tax cut of $25,423, or 2.3 percent of their income under the plan described above.

Populism, to the Republican Party, apparently means that they don’t want to just cut taxes for the wealthiest — to be fair, they also want to balance that by slashing programs for the needy and increasing taxes on the rest of us.

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