The language of deficit reduction

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By Hal Rhodes

A couple of weeks ago, after Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, unveiled the GOP’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, New Mexico’s 3rd District Democratic Congressman Ben Ray Lujan took to the House floor with some thoughts on Ryan’s offering.
To characterize Ryan’s budget plan as controversial is to understate the case. Still, even some of the staunchest critics--in Congress, in the media and beyond—have deigned to tip their hats to the Budget Committee chairman for his ambitious, if unrelentingly doctrinaire, approach to whittling federal spending by $4 trillion over the next ten years.
Beyond the laissez faire economic faith upon which Ryan predicates his budget proposals, some critics fault the congressman for sugar coating the bill of goods he’s peddling with language that is at least disingenuous if not outright deceptive.
It was this latter characteristic of Ryan’s deficit reduction measures that occasioned Congressman Ben Ray Lujan’s April 5 remarks on the House floor, and he began with a tongue-in-cheek look at what he called “The Republican Dictionary.”
Not unlike the operatic duo of Gilbert and Sullivan, who famously proclaimed that “Things are seldom what they seem: Skim milk masquerades as cream,” Lujan suggested that to comprehend the GOP’s budget scheme required translation into standard English.
For example, Lujan said, when Ryan talks about something called “a Premium Support System” for containing costs of Medicare and Medicaid, what he’s actually advocating is a system of vouchers privatizing those programs, thereby throwing the elderly and poor to the tender mercies of big insurances companies that have consistently contributed to ever-rising health care costs.
Nor, the New Mexico congressman might have added, can the Republican budget chairman guarantee that his voucher will cover anything close to the true costs of health care for the elderly. Small wonder the Ryan plan has engendered controversy.
But it doesn’t end there, said Rep. Lujan of Ryan’s proposal as he again turned to his mythic “Republican Dictionary” in his quest for reason, fact and logic in the House Budget Committee chairman’s blueprint for taming deficit spending over the next 10 years.
What, he wondered, are those “Pro-Growth Tax Code Changes” Chairman Ryan has in mind as part of his plan for cutting federal spending by $4 trillion?
Turns out, said Lujan, for Republicans like Paul Ryan, “Pro-Growth Changes” in the nation’s tax structure translate directly into granting still “more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” over and above those recently extended by Congress for another two years.
Specifically, what the House GOP’s budget reduction scheme boils down to is a huge reduction — from 35 to 25 percent — in the nation’s highest income tax bracket.   The mind boggles. Virtually every halfway credible economic analyst, along with most presidential commissions ever impaneled to assay the task of reducing budget deficits and national debt in this country, have come away convinced spending cuts alone can’t accomplish that objective.
Simply put, additional revenues must be included in any serious effort to reduce deficits and debt.
Yet the House Republican plan — and all Senate Republican plans under consideration — stubbornly reject tax hikes in any shape or form, including the only politically palatable tax increase that polls show a majority of Americans supporting: increases in the upper-income tax bracket. Paul Ryan and cohorts want to decrease taxes on those folks?
With the 2012 elections on the horizon, you have to wonder whether that phony baloney language Congressman Ben Ray Lujan exposed about “Pro-growth Tax Code Changes” (tax cuts for the wealthy) and Premium Support Systems (privatizing Medicare) is the congressional Republicans’ way of conning us into believing skim milk actually is cream.
Hal Rhodes
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