The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 13, 2013

Five things we still don’t know about Ryan’s budget



  • Social Security. The third rail of American politics remains quite electric. “In a shared call for leadership,” Ryan says, “this budget calls for action on Social Security by requiring both the President and Congress to put forward specific ideas and legislation to ensure the sustainable solvency of this critical program.” In other words, no details.


  • The Section 920 sinkhole. Ryan gets about $1 trillion in savings from “other mandatory” spending. That includes programs like food stamps, veterans’ benefits, portions of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and more. But these cuts aren’t spelled out in his budget. Last year, many of his cuts were tucked into “allowances” — also known as Function 920 — and left to committees. The result was a huge number of mystery cuts. Most of the numbers in Ryan’s chairman’s mark are currently blank, so it’s unclear which cuts will be specified and how much will be stuck into the 920 sinkhole.


  • Financial reform. There’s no obvious reason this should be in the budget, but it is, so here we go. On page 52, Ryan writes, that “this budget would end the bailout regime enshrined into law by the Dodd-Frank Act. The federal government must ensure financial markets are fair and transparent. And it must hold accountable those who violate the rules. But federal bureaucrats should not micromanage the system or protect Wall Street bankers from the risks they are taking.” So how would it replace Dodd-Frank exactly? It never says.

All of which is to say that much of Ryan’s budget boils down to, “trust me,” or at least, “trust the House Republican Conference.” Without the details on tax reform, there’s no way for us to verify that the tax and spending sides of the budget really add up. Without knowing whether he’s got a credible plan for controlling Medicare costs if premium-support fails to deliver the savings he hopes to see, the long-term projections are, similarly, unreliable. Without knowing where the Section 920 spending cuts are coming from, it’s hard to believe they’re real. Ryan often criticizes the Democrats for dodging the “tough choices,” but there are plenty of tough choices that he too is dodging.


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