By Ezra Klein
The Washington Post
Paul Ryan’s budget is, in many ways, an extremely detailed document, and it certainly stands in stark contrast to the Senate Democrats, who haven’t released a full budget in years (but who will release one Wednesday). But Ryan’s budget leaves a number of major questions unanswered — questions that could decide whether his budget, if it ever passed, would come anywhere near fulfilling its goals. Here are the five biggest blank spots:
- Tax reform. Ryan says a lot about how he’d cut spending. But he says nothing about how he’d reform the tax code. His excuse is that reforming the tax code is the job of the Ways and Means Committee, so he’s leaving it up to them. That’s a thin dodge. The same could be said for Medicare and Medicaid, which are also under the jurisdiction of Ways and Means, but Ryan has released detailed plans on both. Making matters more difficult is that Ryan’s tax-reform targets — which have been downgraded in this budget to mere “goals” — are deeply implausible, requiring, in the estimation of experts I’ve spoken to, at least $5 trillion in offsets. If Ways and Means cheats by passing a tax reform that is, in reality, a large tax cut, suddenly Ryan’s budget might actually be a huge deficit-buster.
- Medicare. The highest-profile idea in Ryan’s budget wouldn’t take effect for a full decade. His plan to convert Medicare to a premium-support system is at the heart of his claim to be reforming entitlements in a sustainable, free-market fashion. But no one knows if premium support, which has never worked to save massive amounts of money before, will work in Medicare. If it doesn’t work, Ryan’s budget is vague on what happens next. He saves money by simply directing that Medicare spending can’t grow any faster than GDP+0.5 percent, but if it exceeds that limit, he’s vague about what will happen.