Why The GOP/Ryan Budget is a Non-Starter for Libertarians

After Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released the Republican budget
plan for 2014, he received public kudos from small-government
groups such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Tax
Reform (ATR). He won praise despite proposing a 42 percent increase
in annual federal spending over the next decade and locking in tax
increases pushed by President Obama.
AFP sent around an email with the subject line, “AFP Supports
Ryan Budget.” While urging the GOP to “reject the $620 billion in
new taxes negotiated by the Obama Administration during the fiscal
cliff deal,” the group’s president Tim Phillips nevertheless said,
“Our hope is that the Senate…look to the Ryan plan as a framework
for their own proposal.”
ATR’s mass email was slugged “ATR ;Applauds House GOP No Net
Tax Hike Balanced Budget Plan,” which is a particularly curious
statement given that the GOP budget incorporates the tax increase
in the fiscal cliff deal. Arguably more problematic, while Ryan’s
budget zeroes out all spending on Obamacare, it keeps many of that
plan’s taxes. Those new levies are expected to raise about $800
billion in revenue over the
next decade and include:

a new 3.8 percent tax on capital gains and dividends on
households that earn more than $250,000 a year, 0.9 percent
additional Medicare taxes on all household income over $250,000 a
year, a new 2.3 percent tax on medical devices and a 10 percent tax
on tanning salon services. ;

Apart from the revenue side of the Ryan/GOP budget plan,
there is, of course, spending.
As I noted yesterday, the budget calls for $3.5 trillion
in federal spending in 2014. But by the end of its projection
period – 2023 – the feds would be spending $5 trillion a year, or
an increase of about 42 percent. If Milton Friedman was on to
something when he said the true measure of government is the amount
of money it spends, the GOP budget massively expands the size,
scope, and (obviously) spending of the federal
The 2014 GOP budget is essentially an update of the past
couple of years’ plans (also called
The Path to Prosperity). The primary difference is the attempt
to balance the budget in 10 years rather than 30 or 40 years. That
revision relies not on proposing sharp cuts or workable reforms to
the major drivers of spending – Medicare, Social Security, and
defense spending – but by either ignoring them completely (Social
Security), obfuscating relevant details (defense), or calling for
modest changes beginning in 2024 (Medicare). The revenue
projections are taken from the
CBO’s completely fantastic and never-before-seen scenario in
which receipts grow on average by 4.5 percent year over year for 10
years. Good luck with that.
So, despite the endorsement of two high-profile groups
that regularly assail government spending and taxes, the Paul
Ryan/GOP budget does both. On top of that, it is filled with
obvious contradictions, annoying diversions, and phony
It didn’t have to be this way. Was it only a week ago that
a handful of senators led by Rand Paul (R-Ky.) created
one of the most stirring moments in recent political
memory ;simply by refusing to conduct business as usual? In
standing up to a chief executive, an attorney general, and the man
who now heads the CIA over questions of transparency and executive
power, Rand Paul and his colleagues didn’t just show a spine and a
vision sorely lacking in the typical Washington “statesman,” they
spoke for voters who are rightly worried and concerned about the
people who rule them. Whatever plaudits the filibuster
partiicipants won, they also were widely attacked by the nation’s
leading editorial boards and even senior members of their own party
(John McCain memorably – and sadly –
dubbed them “wacko birds”).
Would that the crew behind the House Republican budget had
one ounce of the same spine and ideological fervor of folks such as
Rand Paul. If they did (or if they dared to include people such as
Justin Amash in the budgeting process), they might have produced a
document that would actually address out-of-control government
spending and a future that is overwhelmed not simply by red ink but
slow economic growth caused by debt overhang.
Sure, “The Path to Prosperity” will be “better” than the
Senate’s long-awaited plan – at four years in the making, you’ve
got to wonder if the ghost of slow-poke film director Stanley
Kubrick is guiding that sad-sack document. And it will surely be
“better” than the president’s – already late in turning in this
year’s document, Obama has signaled that he’s not signing on to
anything that doesn’t reverse the sequester’s cancellation of White
House tours and other core functions of government.
But being “better” than plans that will be put forth by
political opponents shouldn’t be mistaken for being “good,” or even
worthy of support. The fact is that the GOP budget plan, apart from
its first two years on the spending side, in which it slightly
reduces outlays from the current amount, is nothing to celebrate.
There are workable
alternatives out there, including plans floated by people such
Paul, Sen. Tom Coburn, and the Republican Study Committee. While
none of these proposed reform agendas represent a turn-key
operation, they all have the benefit of actually grappling with the
actual issues that are both at hand and about to slam the American
people in a few years’ time.
Indeed, in its unwillingness to confront directly near-term and
long-term issues with the size and scope of government, it is
simply one more example of how similar both major parties really
are. For all the talk of historically high levels of polarization
and acrimony in D.C., this latest budget season will almost
certainly prove yet again that the two parties have far more in
common than either side wants to admit.
Republicans and conservatives more generally are never slow to
bitch and moan about how libertarians refuse to get in line and
support a first-best or second-best or even third-best option.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and all that. But
by any serious measure, the GOP budget simply doesn’t give those of
us who –
like a persistent majority of Americans – want a government
that does less and spends less much get excited about. Winning the
broadly defined libertarian vote –
a growing demographic that includes people who are generally
socially liberal and fiscally conservative – isn’t difficult or
complicated or hard to do. But it seems beyond the grasp of a party
that doesn’t seem to fully understand or trust its own
limited-government rhetoric.


Why The GOP/Ryan Budget is a Non-Starter for Libertarians

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