The House of Representatives voted this morning on Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal. It passed by a vote of 221 to 207. The 221 yeahs were all Republican, 197 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted no. You can read the official vote count here. You can read the official vote count here. Read more about the actual legislation here.
This is how the House Budget Committee describes the Republican budget plan:
Washington owes the American people a responsible, balanced budget. This is a plan to balance the budget in ten years. It invites President Obama and Senate Democrats to commit to the same common-sense goal. This budget will achieve the following:
Stop spending money we don’t have by cutting wasteful spending.
Fix our broken tax code to create jobs and increase wages.
Protect and strengthen important priorities like Medicare and national security.
Reform welfare programs like Medicaid so they can deliver on their promise.
Before I give my critique of Ryan's budget, I would like to be very clear about something. I do not have anything against him. I just disagree with the approach he has taken to the overall budget and Medicare.
So, I do have problems with Ryan's budget. They are:
It doesn't go anywhere near defense spending. Not only that, despite claiming to be supporters of "fiscal responsibility" the GOP controlled House voted to give the Defense Department more money than it requested. From the Associated Press, "The House Armed Services Committee on Thursday overwhelmingly backed a $642 billion defense bill that calls for construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast, restores aircraft and ships slated for early retirement and ignores the Pentagon's cost-saving request for another round of domestic base closings."
Since the Defense Department budget is off the table, major cuts will be made to other discretionary spending. It should be noted that this part of the budget is really small and cuts to these programs will not do a lot to impact the deficit or debt.
The Obamacare "repeal" isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sure, it gets rid of a lot of it but "Ryan's budget doesn't actually assume the repeal of all of Obamacare. It keeps the tax increases and Medicare cuts so that it can balance in 10 years, as top Republicans in the House promised conservatives." Link here.
It does nothing to address the sequester. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the sequester's impact on the economy is very real. They looked into this and found, "In the absence of sequestration, CBO estimates, GDP growth would be about 0.6 percentage points faster during this calendar year, and the equivalent of about 750,000 more full-time jobs would be created or retained by the fourth quarter." More on that can be found here.
It fails to address economic growth. In 1992, one Clinton/Gore campaign slogan was "It's the economy, stupid." That idea applies today. A better rate of economic growth would solve a lot of our deficit and debt problems. Louis Woodhill writes this in Forbes: "The FY2014 Budget Resolution makes a few vague statements about economic growth, but it doesn’t promise that following Ryan’s plan will deliver a growth rate above the woefully inadequate CBO baseline, which peters out to a pathetic 2.19% rate by FY2023. This is what makes the whole exercise a suicide mission for House Republicans."
Yes, we have a divided government but all the reports I have read indicate House Democrats received more votes than House Republicans and the only reason the GOP has a majority is gerrymandering (see my post on the Reform We Need for more on my view on this -- and no, both sides try to do it so I don't put all the blame for gerrymandering on the right side of the aisle). The bigger issue, is that voters rejected the GOP budgetary priorities when they rejected the Romney/Ryan ticket. Read more here.
While those are my basic problems with the plan, the specifics of which programs will be cut bother me a lot. I watched Ryan this morning on the House floor talk about the differences between how Republicans and Democrats view government and I am going to address some of that now.
Ryan said, "This budget debate was constructive. It revealed each side’s priorities. We want to balance the budget. They don’t. We want to restrain spending. They want to spend more. We think taxpayers give enough to Washington. They want to raise taxes by $1 trillion—just take more to spend more. We want to strengthen programs like Medicare. They seem complicit in their demise. We see Obamacare as a roadblock to patient-centered reform. They see it as a sacred cow. We think national security is a top priority. They want to hollow out our military. We offer modernization and reform, growth and opportunity. They cling to the status quo."
You can watch that below.
My belief is that government exists to do for us collectively what we cannot do individually. While I do not share Ryan's view that a balanced budget is the end all, be all of everything (to me that is a GOP "sacred cow"), I am not opposed to it. The last time we had a balanced budget was not under a GOP administration but during President Clinton's tenure. Moreover, the Republicans spent a lot like drunken sailors when they had control so I am not sure what he is talking about there. I also do not want to "hollow out our military." I want to make it more efficient. I suspect if I were to talk to Ryan, he would have a similar answer to questions about Medicare -- he says he doesn't want to destroy it, he wants to save it by making it more efficient.
I do not think we should cut:
Education spending: our workers compete against workers all over the globe. I would like our people to be as (or more) qualified as anyone else. I saw an interview with Apple where they said they would love to manufacture more products in the US but we don't have the numbers of qualified people they need to do it all. We need more engineers, scientists, etc. We face shortages in healthcare (nurses, techs and a variety of physician specialties such as primary care doctors and surgeons). This is not the time to cut education spending.
Transportation & infrastructure spending: Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our highways, bridges and rail lines are so far behind other countries, it is crazy. Repairing these systems would be a way to get large numbers of people jobs that cannot be exported anywhere.
Clean energy research and development. I know, I know there have been some bad companies but the more energy sources we have, the lower the costs will be and the less dependent we will be on unstable and unfriendly regimes.
Programs to help the poor. With unemployment where it is, too many people depend on food stamps, unemployment insurance and other programs to cut them off. One of my mom's friends (and no, Ryan has never said anything like this -- as far as I know), she said "when the little squirrel cannot find a nut, he dies." I don't want that to be our country's approach to the poor.
Medicare -- it should not be a voucher system. You can read about my thoughts on Ryan's plan for that here.
Watch Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) talk about the GOP budget plan. He is also the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee.
Originally this post was going to be solely about the Republican budget plan in the context of Ryan's religious views. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) opposed Ryan's budget last year and have expressed similar concerns with this year's proposals. Their opposition stems from cuts to programs such as food stamps, child tax credits and others that help the poor. Their letters to Congress last year were in response to comments the Budget Committee chairman made:
“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private,” Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in the interview. “So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?
“Those principles are very, very important,” Ryan said. “And the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence.” Source: the Hill.
A statement by the USCCB released yesterday laid out their case for including provisions to help the poor in any budget:
“We support the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits, but insist that this worthy goal be pursued in ways that protect poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.
"The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated. Their voices are too often missing, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources. The bishops stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity,”
The bishops also suggested the following three principles guide lawmakers:
Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
Every budget proposal should be measured by how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.
Ryan responded to the Bishops' concerns and argued that his budget proposals neither hurt the poor nor do they violate his Catholic faith. From Town Hall Magazine.
"Our budget incorporates solidarity by recognizing a critical role for government in providing a strong safety net for those in need. And it restores the balance between solidarity and subsidiarity by returning a lot of power to individuals, to families and to communities. We are a nation that prides itself on looking out for one another—and government has an important role to play in that. But relying on distant government bureaucracies to lead this effort just hasn’t worked.
Some Catholics seem to mistake the preferential option for the poor for a preferential option for Big Government. When you look at the results of that approach—one out of every six Americans in poverty today, many of them mired in programs whose outdated structures often act as a trap that hinders upward mobility—that’s just not consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith. We need to break down the barriers to opportunity and attack the root causes of poverty. Informed by constitutional oath and my Catholic faith, this is a moral obligation I take very seriously."
Ryan also defended the morality of his budget in The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, EWTN:
"These programs aren’t working the way they should. One in six Americans are in poverty today. We have the highest poverty rates in a generation. What House Republicans proposed in our budget was sensible reforms want to do is put the kind of reforms in these programs – using subsidiarity, solidarity, local control, ideas that worked when we tried them in some other areas in the 1990’s. We want to reform these programs with the idea of getting people out of poverty onto lives of self sufficiency. Right! And there isn’t a monopoly. That’s my point. I can no more claim exclusive justification for my economic and political views than a liberal can for theirs within the Church’s social teaching. This is a matter for prudential judgment left to the laity to exercise their discretion. People of good will can disagree on these things. You have these hits come at you — like that letter — but we should raise the tone of the debate. We shouldn’t just try to shoot the messenger and try to nullify the notion that there are other ways in which to implement Church teaching. That just does a disservice to the kind of debate we need to have."
Now, I do not doubt Ryan's sincerity in this area. I think he does believe that his plans will help the poor and I don't think he cares more about the rich. I cannot say the same thing about Mitt Romney -- I do believe he thinks his wealth has more to do with how great he is and not so much to do with the incredible opportunities he has had that others have not. Yes, I am aware of and appreciate the work he has done in his communities to help others, I don't think he is a fundamentally evil or awful person, I just think he doesn't get it. I have read reports that Ryan had suggested the Romney/Ryan 2012 campaign spend some time in lower income neighborhoods in the cities they visited to educate people on how their policies would be more helpful to poor Americans than Obama's. These ideas were allegedly shot down because the campaign did not see the value as they did not expect to get any votes in those areas.
(Side note: if these reports are true, Ryan's idea was a great one and should have been followed. It may not have gotten a huge number of votes in those areas, though I am sure it would have gotten some, but it would have made the ticket more appealing to a number of people who may have been on the fence.)
The bottom line, however, is that Ryan's budgets and Medicare plans violate what I think of when I think of Jesus' teachings. I am all for the idea that "if you give a man a fish, you feed him for one day but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime" but cutting off assistance to people in real need, won't accomplish that goal.
And if you want to read more about Ryan's views on how to help the poor and his religious ideology:
Interview with National Catholic Register’s Charlotte Hays – Ryan: ‘We have pursued solidarity but abused Subsidiarity’.
National Catholic Register Op-ed: Applying Our Enduring Truths to our Defining Challenges.
Ryan’s Opening Statement at House Budget Committee hearing on reforming the safety net.
Thank you to everyone who helped with this by sending supporting materials and documents. Also I was impressed that Congressman Ryan went out of his way to praise his staff (that's the former Hill staffer in me talking) and with Congressman Chris Van Hollen for thanking Ryan for his professionalism. I may disagree with him but we should be able to disagree with people while remaining civil and it seems these two men have. Good for you.
I promise to do an analysis of the Senate Democrats' budget proposal.
And now for something completely different... (and hopefully fun)
I write political satire as Alyson Durden for Pardon the Pundit. I have written a number of pieces where I call Ryan a vampire. Now, I know Ryan is not a vampire and truly hope his staff, who were most helpful when I was researching his response to Catholic opposition to his budget plans, will not be totally offended because I meant it all in good fun.
And here is a goofy, fake add I put together making fun of a Democratic commercial bashing Ryan for his Medicare plans. I did send it to his staff and it has received at least one thumbs down so I do hope it wasn't from them because I was actually trying to point out the absurdity of the idea that his goal is to kill old people.