I feel I ought to say something about Congressman Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan. Yet, as the ferocious overview by the Center for American Progress indicates, there’ not much that’s new — not even the title.
It’s again The Path to Prosperity, which is true if you’re already prosperous. A path to more desperate circumstances if you’re poor or near-poor.
Not a path you’d like the country to go down if you care about the safety net or many other things the federal government supports, e.g., education, workplace safety, healthcare and other scientific research.
Or if you’re counting on having affordable health care in your golden years — or even next year, if your employer doesn’t provide it.
Far too much for a blog post. So here instead are a couple of ways of looking at the plan.
The Devil Isn’t Just in the Details
Congressman Ryan, as we know, has a long-standing hostility to federal safety net programs — except Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which the plan again endorses as the model for others.
So it’s no surprise that he again wants SNAP (the food stamp program) converted to a block grant that would, in some unspecified way, expand the already-existing work requirements.
The block grant clearly wouldn’t enable states to sustain current eligibility standards and benefit levels, since it would save an estimated $125 billion over 10 years. (More savings from other changes discussed below.)
It’s also no surprise that the Path would again make a block grant out of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Funding increases would be based on inflation and population growth, rather than healthcare costs and the number of people eligible.
So the federal government would save $732 billion over 10 years. And states would have the “flexibility” to cope with the loss.
Many other programs that benefit low-income people would get cut in different ways — Pell grants, for example, and Supplemental Security Income for severely disabled children. There’d be no funds at all for the Social Services Block Grant because the plan would kill it.
But here’s the devil lurking behind such details. Ryan made safety-net slashing inevitable by building his plan on certain basic principles. These are all, I hasten to add, cherished by the right-wing House majority.
First, the budget must balance within 10 years. In other words, what the federal government spends in any given year can be no greater than what it receives in tax revenues.
At the same time, the tax code can’t be changed to increase revenues. Any savings achieved by closing loopholes and the like would have to be used to offset tax cuts.
So the federal government would have to spend a great deal less — even less than seemed the case last year because the Congressional Budget Office now takes a dimmer view of prospects for economy growth and thus of revenue collections.
But — another principle here — the federal government must spend more on defense than what the Budget Control Act allows.
So what the plan giveth to defense, it must taketh away from non-defense — even more so because Ryan aims to bring total spending under the cap.
Defense would thus get $483 billion more than the sequestration levels in the BCA. Non-defense programs subject to annual appropriations would get $791 billion less.
If At First You Don’t Succeed
This, of course, applies to the SNAP and Medicaid block grants, as well as to the fuzzily-described premium support option for Medicare — essentially, a choice of private insurance plans, with costs partially subsidized. But less over time, according to both CAP and Families USA.
As in the past, the Ryan plan would raise the Medicare eligibility age to the already-increased eligibility age for full Social Security retirement benefits.
This would leave a lot of low-income seniors in the lurch because — you knew this was coming — the plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the federal funding for states that expand their Medicaid programs.
Seniors are far from the only people who’d be affected, of course. Everyone who became newly-eligible for Medicaid and everyone who’s purchased — or intends to purchase — subsidized health insurance on an exchange would be back where they were before.
At least 40 million people — one in eight Americans — would become uninsured by 2024, when the 10-year budget window closes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ also ferocious response to the plan.
The plan would also undo compromises reflected in the new Farm Bill. For SNAP, it reverts to what the House Republicans put on the table.
Specifically, states could no longer use receipt of a TANF benefit as a basis for determining eligibility. At least 1.8 million and perhaps as many as 3 million low-income people in 40 states and the District of Columbia would lose their SNAP benefits, according to earlier estimates.
Every year, another 1 million or so would lose them because the plan resurrects another provision that didn’t survive the negotiations. This one eliminates the waivers states can get to exempt able-bodied workers without dependents from the usual work requirements when meeting them would be extraordinarily difficult.
The plan would also eliminate a provision that House Republicans got into the Farm Bill. No more so-called “heat and eat” option at all because what they hoped to achieve, i.e., SNAP benefits cuts for some 850,000 households, hasn’t altogether succeeded.
A Big So What
Well, this is the fourth Path we’ve been treated to. The last proved so problematic that House Republicans themselves couldn’t face some of the cuts required.
In any event, Congress has already passed bills setting defense and non-defense spending caps through 2021. House Republicans can’t change them. They can’t unilaterally make the far-reaching program changes either.
The plan is, however, a clear indication of Republican priorities — a “campaign manifesto,” as The New York Times calls it. Something to bear in mind as we read nervously about the upcoming Senate elections — and look beyond to 2016.