The Ottumwa Courier

Columns

August 20, 2012

Ryan: The myth of the right’s fiscal prophet

OTTUMWA — In his younger days, tennis legend Andre Agassi uttered the catchphrase “Image is everything” while doing advertisements for Canon Camera.

Much has happened to Agassi since he first mouthed this famous utterance. The tennis bad boy of the 1990s went from being a brash youngster to a grizzled veteran and tennis icon.

But this phrase still rings true in the crazy world of U.S. politics. There are few fields where a person’s record is so detached from his or her public image. Such is the case with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan. If you are not a political junkie — and most Americans are not — you probably consider U.S. Rep. Ryan, R-Wis., to be a principled fiscal hawk with a keen understanding of budgetary statistics and data. Ryan is that rare brand of politician that’s willing to tell Americans the hard truths about our out-of-control spending on entitlement programs. This policy wonk has the courage and soundness of mind to propose the deep budget cuts that are necessary to put America back on the road to fiscal sanity. The problem with this image is that it’s mostly bunk. While Ryan may have wowed many fellow Republicans with his fancy fiscal footwork and predilection for number crunching, the Wisconsin congressman has approved virtually every program that created the deficit in the first place. In an article for the liberal Salon Magazine, Glenn Greenwald wrote that Ryan voted for the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts and the budget-busting Medicare Part D plan. So, Ryan is essentially proposing to fix a budget crisis he helped to create by making deep cuts in federal programs for middle-class Americans.

 And then there is the budget plan Ryan put together as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Among other things, the Ryan budget proposes tax cuts for the wealthy that make the Bush tax cuts look tame in comparison — the cuts are the Bush agenda on steroids that would make Major League Baseball’s most habitual drug users blush. Also, in a symbolic genuflection to Romney and his ilk, the Ryan plan, formally dubbed, the “Road Map for America’s Future” — “promotes savings by eliminating taxes, on interest, capital gains and dividends; also eliminates the death tax.”

“Mitt Romney’s income — more than 20 million each of the past two years comes almost entirely from capital gains on his investments, or from ‘carried interest,’ a cut of Bain Capital profits that are taxed as capital gains (the infamous hedge fund loophole),” Alex MacGillis of the New Republic wrote.

The most ironic part of the budget plan is that it, like many of the programs Ryan has championed, does very little to fix the budget deficit because of the large loss in revenue it would foster. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates the plan would result in $4 trillion loss of revenue in the next decade. Under the Ryan plan, liberal Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman estimates the federal deficit in 2020 would be $1.3 trillion.

But despite an ample amount of evidence that casts doubt on Ryan’s reputation as a fiscal hawk, partisans and self-styled centrists in the media still seem bent on treating him like some kind of fiscal prophet. I have nothing against Ryan personally — he appears to be an affable guy — but his public image simply doesn’t match his record. Furthermore, I’m more than a little concerned about having a Ayn Rand acolyte as vice president.

The one laudable thing Ryan’s plan did was raise hard questions about the long-term sustainability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But a solution that, according to the Tax Policy Center, cuts the tax rate of the wealthiest 1 percent in half — it also, admirably, cuts taxes for those at the bottom of the economic ladder — while raising taxes for 95 percent of Americans is not acceptable.

If the Romney-Ryan ticket triumphs in this year’s election the newspaper headline should read “America Shrugged.” For the sake of the middle class, I hope this doesn’t happen.

Andy Heintz is a sports writer for the Ottumwa Courier.

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