I feel I ought to write something about the Ryan-Republican budget plan. I’ve been advised to call it that because it represents the platform Republicans are running on.
I’ve read the Path to
PovertyProsperity twice now. Both times got infuriated, which usually gets my blogging juices flowing.
But I’m stuck for a fresh topic. So I’ll write about that because the reasons are telling.
Proposals Replicate Last Year’s
One reason it’s hard for me to figure out what to write is that the new budget plan is in many ways the same as last years — at least for the issues I cover.
As you’ve probably read, it does take a new tack on privatizing Medicare. But the end results would be the same — costs increasingly shifted to seniors, ultimately less health care — and death of the traditional Medicare option the plan supposedly preserves.
So far as safety net programs are concerned, the two the Path gives specifics about are basically rehashes of the 2011 Path proposals.
Change Medicaid from a cost-sharing program to a block grant. Link increases in federal funding to population growth and the overall inflation rate rather than to health care costs. And let states do whatever to cope with the cost crunch.
Well, I wrote about that last year.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has updated figures, but the bottom line is still the same — many millions of low-income people without health insurance, fewer services and/or higher co-pays for those fortunate enough to still qualify.
Same deal for the food stamp program. Once again, the budget plan would convert it to a block grant, using the deeply-flawed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program as a model.
There’d be new work requirements for participants — and time limits, even apparently for the nearly 30% of households that have income from work. Also apparently for those too young, too old or too disabled to work — well over half of all participants.
And again federal funding would be capped at a level far below projected costs.
But I’ve already written about this attack on the safety net too.
The only news is that the block grant would kick in one year later and cut federal spending by more — at least $133.5 billion over the first 10 years, rather than the $127 billion estimated last year.
Plan Lacks Specifics
The other reason I find it hard to write about the budget plan is that it’s egregiously short on specifics.
The food stamp program, for example, is lumped into a category called “other mandatory,” i.e., all programs that don’t depend on annual appropriations for funding, except for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a couple of other health care programs.
Jim Horney, CBPP’s Vice President for Federal Fiscal Policy, tells us that the budget plan reflects $1.2 trillion less than projected spending for these programs under current policies.
So even if one accepts Congressman Ryan’s assumed savings in farm subsidies and the federal retirement plan, there’d still be $900 billion in savings unaccounted for.
Where would they come from? Subsidized school meals and/or other child nutrition programs? Supplemental Security Income for low-income elderly and disabled people? Unemployment insurance? TANF (again)?
All of the above?
The same question mark hangs over non-defense programs that depend on annual appropriations — education and job training, housing assistance, veterans benefits, food safety, law enforcement, highways and a whole lot more.
Funding for these programs would be cut $1.2 trillion more than under the caps Congress agreed to last August. Where would the ax fall? Or rather, how close to the ground — and when?
Drastic Changes Deserve Informed Debate
Speaking of the mandatory programs, Horney concludes that “it would be a real travesty” to pass a budget like the Ryan-Republican plan “without a full and honest debate about [the cuts] and without leveling with policymakers and the public what cuts the … budget envisions.”
I think the same is true for the so-called non-defense discretionary programs. True, it’s up to the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommitees to decide exactly how to apportion the cuts.
But we ought to be told straight out how the Ryan-Republican budget would transform our country — because it surely would.
A preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office indicates that, by mid-century, there’d be virtually no funding left for anything except defense, Social Security, the major mandatory health care programs and interest on the debt.
The rest of the federal government would, as arch-conservative Grover Norquist wishes, have been shrunk so small it could be drowned in a bathtub.
Surely this merits more debate than the annual budget process allows — and a full, frank accounting to base it on.
UPDATE: After I posted this, I discovered that the House Budget Committee had published a report that essentially spells out the Fiscal Year 2013 plan in greater detail. It says that block granting the food stamp program would save $122.5 billion over the first 10 years.