Tonight in Washington Representative Paul Ryan will receive Politico’s “Health Care Policymaker of the Year” award. Washington Monthly blogger Steve Benen deftly summarizes the many reasons why Ryan is so undeserving of said award.
It’s been several months since the political world debated Paul Ryan’s approach to health care in detail, so perhaps Politico has forgotten some of the more important realizations from the debate. Let’s remind the publication of the relevant details.
First, Ryan’s health care agenda repealed the entirety of the Affordable Care Act—in the process, taking coverage away from millions of Americans—and replaced it with nothing. What’s more, by scrapping the ACA altogether, Ryan would add billions to the deficit, and his plan simply asserted the opposite without evidence.
Second, Ryan’s plan claimed to control health care costs. A closer look reveals that Ryan’s claims were wrong. Indeed, Ryan pushed to shift Medicare cost burdens from the government to families, and apply the savings to more tax cuts.
Third, accusations that the Ryan plan would “end Medicare” were accurate. The right-wing lawmaker intended to scrap the existing program, replacing it with a privatized voucher scheme—and the vouchers wouldn’t cover escalating costs.
Fourth, though it often went overlooked, Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicaid were a tragic mess.
And perhaps best of all, independent scrutiny found that the numbers in Paul Ryan’s plan simply didn’t add up.
To know all of this, and give this guy an award “Health Care Policymaker of the Year” anyway, is madness.
Blogger Digby jokes that “To honor [Ryan] for his work on healthcare policy is akin to honoring Governor Scott Walker as Public Employee of the year.” The Politico award is reminiscent of a similarly ridiculous “fiscal responsibility” honor bestowed upon Ryan earlier this year by three leading deficit hawk groups, which I described in my recent Nation piece on the austerity class.
In 2008, when Ryan introduced his radical budget road map—which called for turning Medicare into a voucher system, privatizing Social Security and redistributing income upward by drastically cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations—[Maya] MacGuineas praised his “tremendous courage and leadership.” When Ryan reintroduced his plan in 2010, the CRFB [Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget] lauded his “thoughtfulness and courage.” The CRFB failed to mention that Ryan’s plan would increase the deficit, from a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60 percent in 2010 to 175 percent by 2050. “Paul Ryan added a huge amount to the deficit,” says John Irons, policy director at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). “To call that even remotely fiscally responsible was not a correct analysis. It’s almost as if they said, We don’t care what your plan does—as long as you talk tough on deficits we’re going to support you.”
Indeed, in January the CRFB, the Concord Coalition and the Comeback America Initiative (all funded by the Peterson Foundation) gave Ryan a cherished fiscal responsibility award, despite his deficit-exploding budget, hostility to tax increases and votes in favor of the Bush administration’s deficit spending. Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, introduced Ryan by quoting Time magazine: “The irony of Ryan’s rise is that he has vaulted to popularity by embracing historically unpopular ideas.” Said Bixby, “And I thought to myself, now there is a deficit hawk…. If we limit ourselves to popular ideas, we’re never going to solve the problem.”
MacGuineas said the award honored Ryan for being the first politician to put forth a budget plan in 2011, which she called “the most fiscally responsible of any of the plans.” Technically, that’s true. Ryan’s budget, a modified version of his road map, achieves a modest $155 billion in savings over ten years by proposing what the CBPP calls “the most severe and wrenching budget cuts in US history—two-thirds of which would come from programs for people of low or moderate incomes” (i.e., Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps and low-income housing).
The award to Ryan illustrates just how dangerously obtuse the austerity class’s definition of fiscal responsibility is. The deficit hawks succeed by making the debate over the deficit a pure accounting game, with no acknowledgment of the adverse impact a plan like Ryan’s would have on the broader economy and on so many Americans if it became law. “If [you’re] willing to slash spending so that long-run deficits are brought under control, then it’s fiscally responsible,” Jim Horney, vice president for federal fiscal policy at CBPP, says of the Ryan plan. “But if by fiscally responsible you mean putting the budget on a sustainable path but making sure that government is able to meet the needs of the people of the United States, then I think it’s a terribly irresponsible plan.”
Ryan is so influential in DC precisely because of the endless street cred he receives from the Washington policy establishment. It would be nice if they stopped giving him awards that he doesn’t deserve.