POLITICS

A defense of Paul Ryan’s speech

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

TAMPA – In the wake of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech, liberals have been widely claiming that the speech was full of lies, so I thought it was worth taking time to address some of their criticisms.

To start, one of the common attacks on Ryan’s speech is that he was dishonest about the closure of the GM plant in Janesville. Conn Carroll ably rebutted that criticism this morning.

Another major attack is that Ryan was being dishonest by highlighting the fact that Standard and Poor’s downgraded the nation’s debt under Obama. Liberals would like to blame Republicans for not agreeing to a clean debt ceiling increase. But if you read the S&P statement on the downgrade at the time, the reality is a bit more complicated. It’s true that the rating agency did say it was concerned about political gridlock in Washington. However, the underlying reason for why this was concerning in the first place is that debt is reaching unsustainable levels and the bond markets want to see dramatic changes. Ultimately, S&P was worried that final deal didn’t go far enough: “the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.” That is precisely what Ryan has been arguing for years. So, in other words, if our nation’s debt were lower, or if the final deal restrained the growth of entitlements, there wouldn’t be any reason for a downgrade even if there were gridlock in Washington.

Liberals also complain about Ryan saying that Obama didn’t act on the proposals of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission, even though Ryan himself voted against the commission’s findings. But the two are not equivalent. Obama was the one who created the commission in the first place and promoted it as part of his solution to the debt crisis. In 2010, when Obama unveiled a budget proposal with unsustainable deficits, it included the caveat that, “The Administration supports the creation of a Fiscal Commission. The Fiscal Commission is charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.” Other budget tables included the following note: “Figures displayed in the table do not reflect the impact of any recommendations from the fiscal commission.” In other words, ignore these scary looking debt numbers, because we’ve appointed a fiscal commission that will make them less scary.

Throughout the year, whenever Obama was asked about his plans to tackle the debt, he’d refer to the fiscal commission. “We are on the path to cutting our deficits in half,” Obama vowed at a July 2010 press availability. “We have put forward a fiscal commission that is then going to examine how do we deal with these broader structural deficits. So this isn’t just an empty promise.  We’ve already started taking steps to deal with it, and we’re going to be very aggressive in how we deal with it.” Even though its members did not approve the Bowles-Simpson commission recommendations, all that meant was that there wouldn’t be automatically sent to Congress. Obama would have been perfectly free to adopt their recommendations in his budget and use the bully pulpit to push them. Instead, he caved into the left wing of his party, which opposed the changes to Social Security and convinced Obama not to give into what they saw as “deficit hysteria.”

Ryan did vote against the plan because it increased taxes and didn’t repeal Obamacare. But, first off, he’s not the one who created the commission and spent a year touting it. More importantly, he released his own long-term debt proposal a few months later. Obama still hasn’t. And this is an important point. Liberals like to call Obama’s Sept. 2011 proposal a debt plan. But that plan, while dubiously claiming $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade, did not address the long-term debt problem posed by entitlements. And don’t just take it from me. Obama’s own Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, appeared before the House Budget Committee in April, which Ryan chairs. “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem,” Geithner told Ryan. “What we do know is we don’t like yours.”

As far as Medicare is concerned, I’ve addressed several of the issues at length in a previous blog post. A few reminders. It’s undeniable that Obamacare’s $1.7 trillion in new spending was financed by a combination of tax increases and Medicare cuts. The fact that Ryan’s own budget assumes those cuts because they are part of the Congressional Budget Office’s current law baseline does not change the fact that Obama signed them into law. Liberals may attack Ryan for being hypocritical (a charge that I don’t think totally works), but either way, that isn’t the same as lying. Also, liberals are trying to argue that Obama’s Medicare cuts won’t affect benefits. But the chief actuary for the program has written, that under Obamacare “Medicare prices for hospital, skilled nursing facility, home health, hospice, ambulatory surgical center, diagnostic laboratory, and many other services would be less than half of their level under the prior law.” Without changes the actuary predicted “severe problems with beneficiary access.” In other words, though seniors might have the same benefits on paper, fewer providers will accept Medicare, so they’ll have less access in practice.

Liberals obviously disagree with Ryan’s arguments. But their efforts to portray his speech as egregiously full of lies and distortions doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny.

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