The so-called federal deficit reduction plan announced recently by the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee is represented as a blueprint that makes the hard choices necessary to steer the United States away from fiscal disaster. But learned analysis exposes Rep. Paul Ryan's prescription as a plan that differs little from President Obama's vision in terms of total deficits, but apportions the pain in very different ways.
Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" runs through various fantasy lands, envisioning that large tax cuts, mostly for the rich, and huge spending cuts, mostly in programs that benefit the poor and middle class, will lead to unprecedented booms in hiring, homebuilding and other economic activities.
Ryan's plan is mostly a means to shelter those who have already benefited from a half-century of fiscal irrationality and dump the burden on those who are to come later. Under Ryan's plan, traditional Medicare will only be available to people who are already on it or less than 10 years away. Ensuing generations would instead be given government vouchers and tossed out into the very health insurance market that has gobbled huge portions of the private economy and given us the worst health-care outcomes in the developed world.
Ryan daren't touch the benefits of people already, or soon to be, on Medicare, partly because it's too late for them to arrange an alternative, but mostly because those are the age cohorts with the highest percentage of active voters.
Ryan's plan is anchored in an open contempt for anyone who isn't wealthy enough to completely take care of themselves in their old age. He describes Medicare as some kind of cushy "hammock" that people laze about in, when in fact it has been the difference between moderate comfort and grinding poverty for generations of retired Americans.
It sounds all too much like the view expressed by Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups the other day when he denigrated unemployment benefits as an attractive alternative to working, when in fact it is a red-tape nightmare that barely keeps the wolf from the door.
Ryan reasonably criticizes Obama's Affordable Care Act as doing far too little to cut health care costs. But the Ryan plan does nothing to cut costs. Instead it shifts them to future generations of retirees, placing them in a situation where virtually all of their Social Security benefits if there are any will be eaten up by health insurance premiums.
Couple all of that with giant tax cuts, the key ingredient in the budget deficits we already have, and Ryan's plan is a path to something. But not something that most people would recognize as prosperity.