Paul Ryan’s Plan for Everything: Hide the Numbers

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Paul Ryan Holds Weekly Press Briefing At The Capitol
Paul Ryan could tell you how much money he plans to take from the poor and give to the rich, but then he'd have to kill you.Photo: Win McNamee/2016 Getty Images

Before Donald Trump started baying at the moon, and before Ted Cruz launched pointless shutdowns, the state of the art in Republican ideological extremism was Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand–inspired vision of government. Because Ryan is a practical extremist rather than an impractical one, and because he avoids displays of racism and misogyny, he has been cast as his party’s sensible alternative. Ryan has built his party’s agenda, which Republicans have rolled out in stages, achieving mostly adulatory coverage. USA Today’s lead earlier this month struck the typical tone: “Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday started rolling out policy prescriptions that he says are part of a positive Republican vision that will show Americans what the party is for, rather than focusing on what it’s against.” But all Ryan’s agenda would actually do is radically redistribute income upward on a historic and unprecedented scale.

House Republicans have released their plan in stages, and today they release their proposal to slash taxes. It contains all of the traditional elements of supply-side economics: The top tax rate would be cut to 33 percent, lower than it was under George W. Bush; taxes on capital gains and dividends would fall; and tax on estates — which currently applies only to inheritances of more than $10 million per couple — would be abolished. However, it is impossible to quantify just how enormous of a boon this would provide to the most affluent. Republicans have omitted enough key details to prevent a full measurement of the proposal’s effects. “The plan isn’t detailed enough for a complete nonpartisan congressional analysis to verify the impact on the budget and on households,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

The same holds true of the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. As with taxes, the overall direction of the policy is clear: It would strip away insurance from tens of millions of people, impose higher costs on people who are poor and sick, and provide lower costs for the affluent and healthy. But just how much cannot be calculated, because Republicans have, again, omitted the key details. “House Republicans have estimates from the Congressional Budget Office on how their health care plan, released Wednesday, would affect the federal deficit,” reports Caitlin Owens. “They’re just not releasing them.” Hard numbers, once again, would reveal all of the painful trade-offs in the Republican plan.

The same dynamic is also true of Ryan’s much-hyped plan to overhaul poverty spending. House Republicans need to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending for the poor, since doing so is the only way to reconcile their commitment to deep tax cuts, higher defense spending, and maintaining retirement benefits for people age 55 and up. But Ryan also needs to pose as an earnest friend of the poor, not as the champion of the upward income distribution his policies would actually bring about. So the “anti-poverty” plan relies on vague language and pixie-dust promises about rooting out unstated waste. “Many of the specific policy prescriptions aimed at addressing the problems identified in the paper were left out because members couldn’t agree on details such as how to prevent waste and fraud, according to aides,” report Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis.

Of course, if Trump manages to win, Ryan will claim that the public has given him a mandate for his ideas, and will quickly speed its passage through Congress. But getting to the point where they can do so requires hiding the numbers for as long as possible.