Paul Ryan’s public life has been dedicated to the upward redistribution of income, which has forced him to master the technique of obfuscatory rhetoric to conceal his agenda. Yet sometimes the traps can be sprung in the most unexpected locations. In an interview last night with Tucker Carlson, Ryan came prepared to defend his health-care bill against a withering attack from his party’s right flank. But then Carlson asked Ryan why he decided to include a huge tax cut for the rich. Watch the exchange here. You can literally see Ryan gulp when he realizes what Carlson is asking him:
Carlson: The overview here is that all the wealth [in] basically the last ten years basically has stuck to the top end, that’s one of the reasons we’ve had all this political turmoil, as you know. Kind of a hard sell to say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna repeal Obamacare but we’re gonna send more money to the people who’ve already gotten the richest over the last ten years.’ I mean, that’s what this does, no? … I’m not leftist, that’s just, that’s true!
Ryan: I–I–I’m not concerned about it because we said we were gonna repeal all the Obamacare taxes, this is one of the Obamacare taxes. The other point I’d is, this dramatically helps tax reform.
So, asked about why his plan gives rich people a big tax cut, Ryan makes three points. The first is that he doesn’t care — “I’m not concerned about that” — is true, or a massive understatement. He’s not only not concerned, it is a major motivation. The third point, that it helps tax reform, is also true. As noted before, Ryan’s legislative strategy is designed around the goal of enabling a large, permanent tax cut for the rich. Obamacare repeal is being rushed in order to grease the skids for tax cuts later. But notice what Ryan is saying. Asked why his health-care plan (which massively cuts health care for the poor and middle class) includes a tax cut for the rich, Ryan explains that it will enable another tax cut for the rich later on!
The second point is interesting, too. Ryan says he’s cutting the taxes that finance Obamacare because he promised to cut them. That is true. But he made a lot of promises. As Josh Barro notes, it’s telling which promises Ryan decided to prioritize. Ryan has spent years making a huge deal about the cuts to Medicare that, along with the taxes on the rich, are another source of funding for Obamacare. He made this promise many times, most famously during his acceptance speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention:
“The biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with a new law and new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more.”
“So, they just took it all away from Medicare, $716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.”
Republicans continued to promised to overturn this cold power play. The “Better Way” plan, which Ryan has held up as his mandate, promises their plan will “[p]rovide immediate relief from Obamacare’s raid on Medicare. Our plan strengthens Medicare Advantage and repeals the most damaging Medicare provisions in Obamacare.” But those cuts had to be left in to make the numbers add up. Republicans could take out the tax cuts for the rich and make their bill less cruel to the millions of poor and sick people who will no longer be able to access medical care because of their bill. Instead, they care more about reducing taxes for the rich.