Some Clarity Amid Budget Proposal Confusion

Jon Ward breaks down the Obama and Ryan numbers

Paul Ryan’s budget proposal—described as “radical” by some and hailed by others as if fresh from the summit of Sinai—has many here in our office scratching our heads. Not necessarily because we can’t see the logic of his slash-and-slice approach, or because we think that $4.4 trillion is a particularly discombobulating figure. Mainly, it’s because we haven’t found a report that fully explains it. You know, for non-budgety types like us. Perhaps it’s purely that we can’t get past the dry first paragraphs to the no-doubt riveting past-the-jumps of most of the budget stories. Maybe not. Either way, if you’ve found a crystal-clear, readable “for Dummies” explainer, send it our way. Or if you’d like to break it down for us yourself, take a look at Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” document here and drop us an e-mail. Bullet points preferred. Extra credit for colorful pictures. Extra, extra credit for fancy bar charts and whatnot.

While the nitty-gritty of the budget proposal remains foggy, there are those working hard to ensure we understand the dollar differences between the Paul Ryan budget proposal and the budget put forward by the Obama administration. And that is important, because the way people are talking, the Ryan budget proposal will set the agenda for the Republican Party moving forward. (Or it might, could, or should, you know how these predictions go.) Jon Ward at the Huffington Post has a number-to-number comparison that is particularly enlightening, like getting the answers to a math quiz even if you’re a little shaky on the working-out.

The headline numbers are these: the Ryan budget will reduce spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade and slice $4.4 trillion off of the deficit. Ward then compares those numbers to those presented by the president’s:

A draft proposal from Ryan’s House Budget Committee says that under his plan, the national debt would be $1.1 trillion less than it would be over the next five years under Obama’s budget, and would add $3 trillion less to the debt than Obama’s budget proposal over the next decade. Ryan’s budget proposal would bring the debt held by the public to $13.9 trillion by 2016 and $16 trillion by 2021, compared to $15 trillion in 2016 and $19 trillion in 2021 under the president’s proposal. (The full national debt of just over $14 trillion also includes money owed to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, but the public figure is the one normally used for budget forecasts.)

More direct comparisons:

Ryan’s plan has $40 trillion in spending over the next 10 years compared to $34.9 trillion in revenues. Obama would spend $46 trillion in the coming decade while bringing in $38.8 trillion in revenues. So Ryan’s plan would still result in the government spending $5.1 trillion more over the next decade than it brings in, but that’s less than the $7.2 trillion in deficit spending that Obama has proposed.

And some more:

Ryan’s budget spends less on nearly every major category of the budget. Over the next decade Ryan wants to cut $389 billion from Medicare, the public health insurance program for seniors. Over the same period, Ryan’s budget puts $735 billion less toward Medicaid, which benefits Americans too poor to afford private insurance. Discretionary spending on domestic programs is also reduced by $923 billion.

Two exceptions are security and defense spending and spending on Social Security, the public pension program for the elderly. Both are kept steady and relatively unchanged from Obama’s proposed budget.

Ward goes beyond dollar figures to emphasize the differences in spending as a percentage of GDP—what he calls the measure of “government’s footprint in the economy.” Where Ryan’s plan would see spending at 20 percent of GDP through 2030, Obama’s budget would see it at 22 percent for the next ten years, and then up to 23 percent thereafter. In a blessing of context, Ward says it “would be the highest amount of government spending since World War II” and directly compares the Obama figure to those of presidents between then and now.

As for the role of health care, Ward writes:

A big part of Ryan’s plan rests on the assumption that Obama’s health care law will be repealed. Over the next decade, that would cut $1.4 trillion in spending alone, according to Ryan’s budget. Those savings, however, wouldn’t go directly to deficit reduction, because Ryan would also repeal the elements of health care reform that are aimed at raising revenue or reducing costs.

It’s a solid and clarifying piece on this complex issue, and well worth a gander. Now, if he just had some bar charts to go with it…

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , ,