Paul Ryan's Radical Economic Regime: Why His House Budget Legacy Is a Lesson in Elitism

Do Americans realize that under a Ryan economic regime, tens of millions of our poor neighbors would be dropped categorically and coldly to the curb, with no support whatsoever from the very system that our forefathers and mothers set up to ensure that America would prosper?
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Look past the boyish, small-town Wisconsin charm, the incredible commitment to physical fitness, and the impressive clarity in communicating fiscal conservatism, and what does America get with the Paul Ryan vice president pick? Having served as a senior policy advisor to one of Chairman Ryan's colleagues on the House Budget Committee, US Congressman Michael Honda, I know the picture Ryan is trying to paint all too well. And it is a grim one.

When Paul Ryan first painted his so-called "Path to Prosperity," not only were progressives in the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) utterly shocked at how regressive the legislation was, but so too were moderate Democrats. In the Ryan's roadmap, the only group of Americans bound to prosper under Ryan's plan were the "haves". If you were an American "have-not", forget about it, you were screwed.

Ryan's budget was so bad for the majority of America that people turned out en masse to resist it. Helping Honda, who serves as the CPC's Budget Taskforce Chair, put forth a "People's Budget" on behalf of the Progressive Caucus, we received laudations and endorsements from credible economists and analysts at The Economist, The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, among others. Even Paul Krugman and Jeff Sachs came out swinging for us. There was a palpable hunger for some sane voice in the House Budget Committee and the CPC clearly struck a nerve in Congress.

That chord was so resonant that one Congress later the CPC came out again with a "Budget for All," a budget that protected American families, put Americans back to work, provided for a fair tax policy, and brought our troops home, all while implementing fiscal discipline. Yes it is possible, Mr. Ryan.

Now, a couple congresses after the CPC's initial alternative budget offering, reporters are writing on Ryan's roadmap in fairly glossary terms. Very few are highlighting how damaging his policies would be to the majority of America. So some clarification is needed.

Do Americans realize that under a Ryan economic regime, education spending would be cut by 45 percent, despite the fact that our educational performance in reading, science and math continues to fail to rank in the top ten of the OECD's rich world countries? Or that infrastructure spending would be cut by 24 percent, despite the fact that the American Society of Civil Engineers are calling for over $2 trillion in new monies to simply bring our roads and bridges up to standard after maintenance has been underserved for decades? Counter-intuitively, and at a time when America's economic competitiveness needs help the most, Ryan's House budget plan slashes nearly $1 trillion in investments in education, job training, scientific research and transportation infrastructure over the next decade.

Do Americans realize that under a Ryan economic regime, tens of millions of our poor neighbors, families, brothers and sisters, would be dropped categorically and coldly to the curb, with no support whatsoever from the very system that our forefathers and mothers set up to ensure that America would prosper? Does America realize that health insurance protections would be thrown to the private sector wind with no guarantee of a patient-centric approach at all? All the while keeping corporate tax loopholes and giving huge tax breaks to the very, very wealthy, totaling $3 trillion.

Do Americans realize that beyond the campaign trail charm, there is another side to Ryan, which was witnessed in the House Budget Committee hearing room? Often dismissive and even disrespectful of his Budget Committee colleagues on the Democratic side, Ryan is no naïve, small-town boy whose principles will prevent him from turning a profit off his policymaking position. That he pocketed $60,000 from a now-convicted campaign contributor in exchange for trucking-friendly legislation is indicative of how he's no stranger to how policymaking works for the one percent. Make no mistake: Ryan is uncomfortably close to K street. Hardly a charming disposition for our democracy.

Hopefully Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney will not adopt Ryan's voucher-centric and overly voucher-reliant approach to doing government business, but Romney's private sector preference may well predispose him toward a vouchered Medicare and Medicaid world, at the disregard of America's most needy seniors, poor and disabled. This would be so far outside the ethos of this country's founding and from the Statue of Liberty's liking that the country may well be unrecognizable in this Republican regime. Without question, this is a contest for a completely different vision of, and future for, America.

Michael Shank is an adjunct professor at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, serves on the board of the National Peace Academy, and is an associate at the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.

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