For the Virtual Green Room: May 29, 2011...
Bending the Health Care Spending Cost Curve: Matt Miller Gets It Wrong

Looking at Republican Politicians with Rosy-Scenario Glasses

Jonathan Bernstein says that Ross Douthat really does not understand the Republican politicians he supports.


A plain blog about politics: What Forced Ryan's Errors: Ross Douthat today argued that the Republican budget as drafted by Paul Ryan contained an "unforced error" on taxes.... Well, there are a few things here.... I think [Paul Ryan] is signaling that he is, in fact, planning to rely on the Heritage numbers; he has no intension of really paying for rate cuts by cutting an equal amount of tax expenditures.... [I]f Ryan admits that he's using phony numbers, then those who praised his "courage" might not have done so. If he specifies the pay-fors and they wind up (as Jonathan Chait expects), that the overall result is to shift the tax burden away from the rich, then Republicans get exactly what they're getting now (but with less wiggle room for objecting to it, if that matters). Or if Ryan somehow does come up with pay-fors that keep the tax burden the same, he's going to wind up having a lot of major Republican supporters quite unhappy with him for taking away their important tax deductions.... [T]he problem is, basically, lowering tax rates for the wealthy as part of a deficit reduction plan. No matter what you do beyond that, it's going to be hard to sell.... Douthat misses the whole point of the exercise, which is to lower tax rates for rich people. Of course, if you accept the idea of increasing the share of taxes paid by the wealthy, then virtually none of these convoluted maneuvers are needed.

So: vagueness isn't a forced error; it's the best of a set of bad choices, given the starting point of dropping rates. And dropping rates for wealthy taxpayers isn't an unforced error; it's "forced" because it's the whole point of the Republican Party, at least these days.

Ross Douthat:

The Ryan Budget's Unforced Errors: Yesterday, while the backlash against the House Republican budget was helping the Democrats snap up a House seat in conservative territory, Peter Suderman discussed how the Republicans helped bring this on their own head: for the Ryan plan wasn’t the only way the GOP helped cause the Medicare backlash. During the ObamaCare debate and the 2010 election, the party’s loudest, most frequent criticism of last year’s health care overhaul was that it cut Medicare. That was an effective message, but also a short-sighted one. Now as Republicans look for ways to reform Medicare on their own, their own words are coming back to haunt them.... [T]he GOP... helped ensure that the Democrats’ current Medicare message would be popular and effective. One of the reasons Ryan knew what was coming, it’s safe to say, was that his own party had been there before.

I think it’s always been clear that the Republicans’ decision to make Mediscare arguments against Obamacare was a classic “win the battle, lose the war” maneuver — and worse, they didn’t even win the battle! But as someone who shares Suderman’s sympathy for Ryan’s overall vision on Medicare, I think it’s important to emphasize that the Ryan budget included unforced errors in its own right. By trumpeting absurd Heritage Foundation growth projections... the budget made it easy for liberals to claim that the Republicans weren’t just cutting Medicare, but that they were doing it to pay for voodoo economics and tax cuts for the rich.... [P]ackaging an inevitably-unpopular Medicare reform with sweeping cuts in tax rates and then garlanding it with a supply-side fantasy about the likely consequences for economic growth, the House Republicans essentially wrote the Democratic Party an extra set of talking points...