Paul Ryan’s elevation to the Republican presidential ticket prompted me and my colleagues at Citizen Action of Wisconsin to delve more deeply into his now famous budget plan. Although we have been consistent critics of Ryan’s budgets, I have to confess that until we took a more in-depth look this summer we had no idea just how un-credible and irresponsible the plan really is. I have gone from believing Ryan’s budget is terribly misguided to seeing it is a fundamentally dishonest and indefensible document.
Our shock that a plan as intellectually dishonest as Ryan’s is being treated by many pundits as a bold and serious proposal prompted us to issue a challenge to conservative leaders in Wisconsin. I will debate on a public stage any Wisconsin conservative leader with the guts to defend Ryan’s budget in public in any region of the state. If there is a conservative leader up to the challenge of a Lincoln-Douglas like tour of Wisconsin cities, I would be happy to oblige. We first issued this challenge two weeks ago, and have repeated it on our weekly podcast (which we know the right monitors), in a YouTube video, and on two popular radio programs. So far, there are no takers.
The apparent hesitation of Wisconsin conservatives to debate Ryan’s plan in public is probably related to how difficult it is to defend on its merits. Ryan’s plan is not a deficit reduction plan at all, it is a cover to implement an extreme agenda that would leave many Americans on their own.
Ryan irresponsibly gives massive new tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans even larger than the Bush-era tax breaks, making a tax system that is already rigged against middle-class and low-income Americans even more unfair. A responsible deficit plan would ask the wealthy to pay their fair share, and would protect investments that create the opportunity for more Americans to get ahead during their working years and to enjoy secure retirements.
Ryan also undermines efforts to restrain health care hyperinflation, unfairly shifting the cost of a bloated health care system onto average Americans who can’t afford it. Equally shocking, the damage Ryan’s plan will do to freedom and opportunity will probably never lead to a balanced federal budget. In a classic bait and switch, Ryan’s tax cuts for the rich and many of his draconian cuts begin immediately, but the plan takes 28 years to produce its first balanced budget, and even this false promise is based on fuzzy and completely implausible assumptions.
Ryan’s plan, despite his claims to the contrary, also undermines Medicare’s guarantee of health security for seniors, one of the great achievements of the 20th century. Access to affordable health care makes it possible for seniors to enjoy the freedom of a secure retirement. As a country, we learned over half a century ago that private for-profit health insurance does not work for seniors, yet Ryan is determined to repeat the life threatening mistakes of the past. Ryan’s plan actually costs 40 percent more than traditional Medicare per enrollee, and any savings to the government are more than offset by massive new tax breaks for the wealthy. Ryan’s voucher plan doubles out-of-pocket cost for seniors, which will force many to choose between health coverage and the other necessities of life.
Ryan also raises the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and repeals the Affordable Care Act’s protections against pre-existing condition discrimination. Without the guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can purchase insurance at an affordable cost, 66- and 67-year-olds will be at the mercy of health insurance industry. The result will be millions of seniors in their early retirement years forced to go without coverage when they are likely to need it most, greatly increasing their risk of early death or losing all of their hard-earned retirement savings to medical bills. This is much too high a price in freedom and security to pay for unnecessary and undeserved tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.
As bad as this all sounds, what I have laid out to you in this column only scratches the surface of fatal flaws and imminent disasters contained in Ryan’s budget. If no conservative leader will step up to the plate and accept our challenge to stage a public debate or a series of debates, that will say a great deal about the seriousness with which we should treat Ryan’s proposal.
As Wisconsin progressives, we believe that a “sifting and winnowing” of ideas is essential to creating policy that serves the public interest. We hope there is a conservative leader within the borders of the Badger State who agrees that serious public discussion should be more than sound bites and 30-second television attack ads, and is willing to stand up in public and defend Paul Ryan’s budget. We await their response.
Robert Kraig is executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Citizen Action’s weekly Battleground Wisconsin Podcast is posted Friday mornings on Soundcloud, iTunes, Facebook, and at www.citizenactionwi.org