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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: House Budget Chairman U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduces the House Budget Committee's FY2013 budget at a news conference at the Capitol on March 20, 2012 in Washington, D.C. The House Republican plan reduces personal income taxes to a 25 percent and a 10 percent rate, although it leaves income thresholds for the income brackets unclear, and would set a discretionary spending cap at $1.028 trillion.  (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

the national interest

Do Paul Ryan’s Spending Cuts Exist?

The Economist, in its cover editorial about how both President Obama and Mitt Romney should stop with the feudin' and fussin' and start with the lovin', upbraids Obama for accusing the House Republicans of planning to cut spending:

Mr Obama claimed that the Republicans had embraced a form of “thinly veiled social Darwinism” that would deprive needy children of healthy food, slash cancer research, close down national parks and eliminate air-traffic control in swathes of the country. It sounds scary, and it contains more than a grain of truth — but in fact the Republicans have proposed none of these specific cuts. Mr Obama’s dystopian predictions are based on his own extrapolations from the broad spending cuts proposed by the Republicans in Congress.

It’s true that the Republican budget contained none of those specific cuts. It contained very large cuts to the general category of domestic discretionary spending — basically, everything that isn’t entitlement spending or defense. Obama prefaced his description by noting that he was describing what would happen if those cuts were applied equally, and that they probably wouldn’t be applied equally, but every dollar spared in one program would be cut even more deeply than average from another.

The broader question here is, have the Republicans proposed to cut spending?

The Economist says no, they haven’t. Likewise, Paul Ryan and his allies are upset that Obama is illustrating the potential effects of their unspecified cuts to spending. But the spending cuts either exist or they don’t. If Republicans have “proposed none of these specific cuts,” then what have they proposed? They have proposed (in the domestic discretionary spending category) something more like a general goal — we’re going to get our family out of debt by spending $10,000 less per year, but we won’t say on what.

In his response to Obama’s speech, Ryan bitterly complained about applying the across-the-board assumption to his unspecified spending cuts. Does this new standard allow for analyses of the president’s budget to go through what it would mean for the country if the president’s $2 trillion tax increase were to be spread out evenly?

That would be a cogent critique if Obama simply announced he planned to raise a bunch of new revenue but wouldn’t say from where. But Obama has said where he wants to get more revenue. He favors letting the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000 expire, and raising another trillion from limiting tax deductions for the rich, plus other sources. Here’s a chart!

There’s no mystery here. Obama is saying exactly how he plans to raise more revenue. Ryan is not saying where he wants to get his spending cuts. (Except on programs for the poor. He’s happy to lay those out on rather gruesome detail.)

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Photos: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images; Citizens for Tax Justice