By Michael Shank
Working with one of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s Democratic colleagues on the budget committee, as senior policy advisor to U.S. Congressman Michael Honda (D-Calif.) for several years, I know the economic picture Ryan is trying to paint all too well. It is a grim one.
When Ryan first painted his so-called “Path to Prosperity”, not only were progressives in the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) shocked at how regressive the legislation was, but so too were moderate Democrats. In the Ryan roadmap, the only group of Americans bound to prosper under Ryan’s plan were the “haves”. If you were an American “have-not”, forget about it, you were screwed.
Ryan’s budget was so bad for the majority of Americans that people turned out en masse to resist it. Helping Honda, who serves as the CPC’s Budget Taskforce Chair, put forth a “People’s Budget” on behalf of the Progressive Caucus, we received laudations and endorsements from credible economists and analysts at The Economist, The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, among others. Paul Krugman and Jeff Sachs came out swinging for us. There was a hunger for some sane voice in the House Budget Committee and the CPC clearly struck a nerve in Congress.
That chord was so resonant that one congress later the CPC came out again with a “Budget for All”, a budget that protected American families, put Americans back to work, provided for a fair tax policy, and brought our troops home, all while implementing fiscal discipline. It is possible, Mr. Ryan. Now, a couple congresses after the CPC’s initial alternative budget offering, some clarification is needed regarding Ryan’s roadmap.
Under Ryan’s plan, education spending would be cut by 45 percent. Why he would do this is unclear. Our educational performance in reading, science and math continues to fail to rank in the top ten of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s ranking of rich world countries. Infrastructure spending would be cut by 24 percent. Again, why he would do this is beyond me. The American Society of Civil Engineers are calling for over $2 trillion in new monies to simply bring our roads and bridges up to standard after maintenance has been underserved for decades. Counterintuitively, and at a time when U.S. economic competitiveness needs help the most, Ryan’s House budget slashes nearly $1 trillion in investments in education, job training, scientific research and transportation infrastructure over the next decade.
Under Ryan’s roadmap, tens of millions of our poor neighbors, families, brothers and sisters, would be dropped categorically and coldly to the curb, with no support whatsoever from the very system that our forefathers and mothers set up to ensure that the United States would prosper. Health insurance protections would be thrown to the private-sector wind with no guarantee of a patient-centric approach at all. All the while keeping corporate tax loopholes and giving huge tax breaks to the very, very wealthy, totaling $3 trillion.
Whether Mitt Romney will adopt Ryan’s voucher-centric and overly voucher-reliant approach to doing government business remains to be seen. Romney’s private-sector preference may well predispose him towards a vouchered Medicare and Medicaid world, at the disregard of the United States’ most needy seniors, poor and disabled. But let’s hope Romney doesn’t adopt Ryan’s roadmap. This would be so far outside the ethos of this country’s founding and from the Statue of Liberty’s liking that the country may well be unrecognizable in this Republican economic roadmap. Without question, this is a contest for a completely different vision of, and future for, America.