As he has in years past, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan presented his latest budget as a necessary step—the only thing we have to avert a destructive debt crisis. It may be painful to turn Medicare into a voucher program, cut spending on social services, and devolve Medicaid into a block grant for the states, but it's the only choice we have to avoid catastrophe. Here's Ryan in his own words:
Unless we change course, we will have a debt crisis. Pressed for cash, the government will take the easy way out: It will crank up the printing presses. The final stage of this intergenerational theft will be the debasement of our currency. Government will cheat us of our just rewards. Our finances will collapse. The economy will stall. The safety net will unravel. And the most vulnerable will suffer.
The problem, of course, is that we're not facing a debt crisis. Interest rates haven't spiked, and markets are still happy to lend the United States cash at astonishingly good rates. Our economy is large enough and productive enough to handle large debt loads, especially when overall economic growth is sluggish; assuming repeal of the sequester, notes Ezra Klein in The Washington Post, debt will reach 112 percent of gross domestic product by 2023. That's not great, but it's far from the apocalypse predicted by Ryan.
The fact of the matter is that Ryan is most concerned with drastically reducing the size of government and its scope of obligations. It's why his budget repeals the Affordable Care Act—despite his insistence, during the press conference this morning, that he doesn't touch current law—and it's why he inverts progressive redistribution by removing benefits for working and middle-class families, while also cutting taxes for upper-income earners.
As with his previous budget plans, this year's "roadmap" is an elaborate justification for his vision of minimalistic government. His call to balance the budget has less to do with putting the federal government on a sustainable path—as Ross Douthat points out for The New York Times, "Modest deficits are perfectly compatible with fiscal responsibility"—and everything to do with his narrow ideological agenda. "The reality," notes Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly, "is that he'd be promoting the same policies even if the budget were in balance."
If there's anything worth noting about this new budget, it's the extent to which it shows a Republican Party unchastened by the 2012 elections. Nearly every Republican—from Mitt Romney down to Senate and House candidates—ran on ideas promulgated by Ryan. And while it's hard to attribute a win or loss to any given policy, there's no question these ideas are unpopular with the public. Despite this, and despite the fact of Republican losses at all levels of government, the party is roaring back with the same approach to spending and taxes, with little in the way of adjustment.
It is unreasonable to expect a party to give up its ideas in the wake of a single election, but to move forward without any introspection is a sure sign the GOP is unconvinced its loss had anything to do with substance. And while this obviously dismays liberals, it's not actually clear Republicans are wrong.