Paul Ryan’s Budget

It’s Paul Ryan Budget Day. Which means that, similar to previous iterations, it’s effectively Paul Ryan’s Budget Drops A Bunker-Busting Bomb to Services For The Poor And Working Class While Slashing Taxes For The Wealthy Day. This is not perfunctory partisan framing. It simply is the shortest way to describe Ryan’s guide to achieving a balanced budget within 10 years. As in past years this is primarily done by having the federal government spend less on healthcare services for the poor, elderly, and/or disabled:


Also similar to past years, the House GOP budget mostly spares Medicare, Social Security and defense:

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There are many other aspects to the Ryan budget, covered in various forms with basic similarities herehere and here, and probably more will come out as think tanks do their best to tease out the budgetary implications. For a level-headed conservative take, go read Jim Pethokoukis.

Conservatives tend to dislike the commonly-held belief that they don’t care about the poor and are primarily interested in protecting the wealthy and defense. Paul Ryan’s budget is why this characterization exists. Yes, of course, Republicans would never describe their budget ambitions this way — in fact, they see these policies as benefiting all Americans. So it should be understood that such a characterization is entirely a non-conservative-centric viewpoint. Yet this viewpoint exists because budgets are typically seen as moral documents, laying down the spending priorities we consider important. So when Ryan releases a budget that spends drastically less on the poor and working class while leaving wealthy Americans and defense contractors much better off the interpretation is rather simple.

What best explains the dichotomy between what conservatives see and the way it is interpreted by everyone else? Ideology, of course, as Ezra Klein explains:

It is Ryan’s unusual ideology, and not the specific state of our finances, that justifies this budget. Ryan’s view is that the federal government is strangling our community. When the federal government provides health care for the poor and the middle class, it muscles out states, communities and families that might otherwise fill some of the gap. When bureaucrats set up Obamacare’s exchanges, they stifle the essential ingenuity of the private sector. When government does too much to provide for individuals, they are robbed of the bracing necessity of providing for themselves. When the government taxes success to alleviate hardship, it undermines and stigmatizes those who should be leading society.


Ryan’s budget is, at its core, a set of very distinct, very ideological, and, over the course of Ryan’s career, very consistent ideas about how to reform the relationship between the federal government and its citizens.

These budgets from Ryan et al. are still moral documents that prioritizes collective action. However it does not, as others presume, rest on questions surrounding certain levels of spending on a particular area, but whether such collective action should exist in those areas in the first place. Moreover, the only way to sell a budgetary framework like that to folks on the fence is to present the counter-factual as a dystopian apocalypse. Without that alternative reality it’s only a radical reconstruction of the states’ relationship to the people. For those of us who are more aware of alternative political ideologies this concept is fairly standard, but it may be surprising to some. Or that may appeal to you, which is perfectly fine, but the conversation would be more honest if such first-principles were freely admitted.

Thus, contrary to popular framing, Paul Ryan isn’t a hawk of deficits, debts or spending. Above all else, before anything else, he is a hawk of government’s presence, period. Keep this in mind when you watch, listen, or read Ryan and other’s supporting arguments. They do, in a fair sense, care about the poor, the working class, and everyone else. They just want to show it in a different way.


2 responses to “Paul Ryan’s Budget

  1. The only people that think Paul Ryan is a fiscal conservative are those that are ignorant of his pre-Obama voting record. He voted for all of Bush’s big spending – the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, the Bush Stimulus and TARP. The first major spending bill he voted against was Obama’s Stimulus…

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