Paul Ryan cont'd
I do think it's a bit peculiar to discuss Paul Ryan's seriousness about balancing the budget while simply setting the question of whether his claims to have balanced the budget are valid. But I'm also not sure that the case is as open-and-shut as some have concluded. So let's try to go through this.
Here's the issue, as I understand it: When Ryan and his policy team created the Roadmap, they started with a revenue target in mind. That revenue target was slightly north of 19 percent of GDP. They went to the Joint Committee on Taxation to get some help developing a tax plan that would hit their target, but because the Roadmap needs estimates far beyond the 10-year budget window, JCT turned them down. So Ryan and his team went to the Treasury Department, and working with Treasury staff and Treasury models, they developed a plan that hit the target. Then they went to the Congressional Budget Office for their estimate. All of this is pretty standard.
Enter the Tax Policy Center, which has its own tax-simulation model, and which used it to analyze Ryan's plan: It found that the plan only produces revenues at 16 percent of GDP. Ryan's team wasn't convinced that it should believe the Tax Policy Center's model rather than the Treasury Department's model -- and of course it preferred Treasury's number -- but it continued to say that it was committed to assuring revenues held at 19 percent of GDP and, if needed, it would adjust "the specified rates to hit the revenue targets."So that's the issue: Ryan's team says that Treasury blessed its proposal, and it is not going to rewrite the plan based on the analysis of one think tank (though it's actually two when you count Citizens for Tax Justice [pdf]). Others say that if they want to show they're playing in good faith, they would adjust the revenues to close the hole that TPC found, as TPC is a highly respected outfit and, in the absence of a JCT score, is the most authoritative public estimate. I think Ryan's team should adjust their proposal, but their position doesn't strike me as obviously fraudulent. The Treasury Department is a perfectly serious partner for this sort of thing, and unless they're lying about their involvement, I can see the case for sticking to Treasury's models in the absence of a JCT score.
So far as the Ryan brand goes, I actually find his comments on Glenn Beck's show to be a much clearer moment of bad faith than his road map. You can't go around saying “I’m trying to get the discussion to an adult level," and then head to Beck's house and call progressivism "a cancer" and "a complete affront of the whole idea of this country." If you're going to be an adult, you have to be an adult when that's not what your side wants, too. People whose ideas you've called "a cancer" when it suited you will probably find it difficult to extend you the benefit of the doubt when you assure them that you're playing it straight.
Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.