Stockman: Ryan Plan an ‘Empty Sermon’

David Stockman, the former Reagan budget director who hails from this area, writes an op-ed in the New York Times blistering Paul Ryan’s allegedly serious budget and tax plan as a “fairy tale” and an “empty sermon.” It’s pretty sweeping and sometimes off-base, but he goes right for the jugular.

PAUL D. RYAN is the most articulate and intellectually imposing Republican of the moment, but that doesn’t alter the fact that this earnest congressman from Wisconsin is preaching the same empty conservative sermon…

Mr. Ryan’s sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to “job creators” (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse.

Mr. Ryan professes to be a defense hawk, though the true conservatives of modern times — Calvin Coolidge, Herbert C. Hoover, Robert A. Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, even Gerald R. Ford — would have had no use for the neoconconservative imperialism that the G.O.P. cobbled from policy salons run by Irving Kristol’s ex-Trotskyites three decades ago. These doctrines now saddle our bankrupt nation with a roughly $775 billion “defense” budget in a world where we have no advanced industrial state enemies and have been fired (appropriately) as the global policeman.

Indeed, adjusted for inflation, today’s national security budget is nearly double Eisenhower’s when he left office in 1961 (about $400 billion in today’s dollars) — a level Ike deemed sufficient to contain the very real Soviet nuclear threat in the era just after Sputnik. By contrast, the Romney-Ryan version of shrinking Big Government is to increase our already outlandish warfare-state budget and risk even more spending by saber-rattling at a benighted but irrelevant Iran…

The greatest regulatory problem — far more urgent that the environmental marginalia Mitt Romney has fumed about — is that the giant Wall Street banks remain dangerous quasi-wards of the state and are inexorably prone to speculative abuse of taxpayer-insured deposits and the Fed’s cheap money. Forget about “too big to fail.” These banks are too big to exist — too big to manage internally and to regulate externally. They need to be broken up by regulatory decree. Instead, the Romney-Ryan ticket attacks the pointless Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul, when what’s needed is a restoration of Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era legislation that separated commercial and investment banking…

A true agenda to reform the welfare state would require a sweeping, income-based eligibility test, which would reduce or eliminate social insurance benefits for millions of affluent retirees. Without it, there is no math that can avoid giant tax increases or vast new borrowing. Yet the supposedly courageous Ryan plan would not cut one dime over the next decade from the $1.3 trillion-per-year cost of Social Security and Medicare.

Instead, it shreds the measly means-tested safety net for the vulnerable: the roughly $100 billion per year for food stamps and cash assistance for needy families and the $300 billion budget for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Shifting more Medicaid costs to the states will be mere make-believe if federal financing is drastically cut…

The Ryan Plan boils down to a fetish for cutting the top marginal income-tax rate for “job creators” — i.e. the superwealthy — to 25 percent and paying for it with an as-yet-undisclosed plan to broaden the tax base. Of the $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures that the plan would attack, the vast majority would come from slashing popular tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, mortgage interest, 401(k) accounts, state and local taxes, charitable giving and the like, not to mention low rates on capital gains and dividends. The crony capitalists of K Street already own more than enough Republican votes to stop that train before it leaves the station.

In short, Mr. Ryan’s plan is devoid of credible math or hard policy choices. And it couldn’t pass even if Republicans were to take the presidency and both houses of Congress. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have no plan to take on Wall Street, the Fed, the military-industrial complex, social insurance or the nation’s fiscal calamity and no plan to revive capitalist prosperity — just empty sermons.



  1. says

    Looks like it’s time to take Stockman out to the woodshed again — just like when he hinted we might cut some waste in the Pentagon back in 1981…

  2. zippythepinhead says

    The Ryan Plan boils down to a fetish for cutting the top marginal income-tax rate for “job creators” — ooooh, a fetish, how kinky!

  3. Michael Heath says

    David Stockman’s book, The Triumph Of Politics: The Inside Story of the Reagan Revolution , which covers his time as Reagan budget director, is a very insightful look at sausage-making. That book was also the final nail in the coffin used to bury Stockman’s ability to be a Republican leader.

    However, like Ron Paul, Mr. Stockman is very good at providing insightful compelling arguments from the right while also showing some loose screws as well. Such as his creationist-like distate for monetary policy.

  4. Jordan Genso says

    “broaden the tax base” = “raising taxes on the poor and middle class families”

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    PAUL D. RYAN is the most articulate and intellectually imposing Republican of the moment…

    This is so true, and so sad.

  6. says

    However, like Ron Paul, Mr. Stockman is very good at providing insightful compelling arguments from the right…

    Actually, no, neither of them are good at that, though Stockman is a good deal more in touch with reality than Ron Paul will ever be. Stockman isn’t really offering anything more insightful than “Ryan’s plan won’t cut spending as much as he says it will,” followed by some kinda-sorta-admission that Republican regulatory policies really aren’t that helpful. He offers no actual discussion of whether this or that spending cut is a good thing, or whether his party’s fiscal religion really makes sense; all he does is accuse Ryan of not really being faithful to the Party Line.

  7. says

    Again, pay close atention to what’s happening here: plenty of people have offered harsher and more cogent criticism of Republitarian ideology (remember the Occupy movement?), and they’re ignored by the media and huge chunks of the blogsphere; but when a Republican hack like David Stockman bashes Ryan, suddenly it’s “news,” even though Stockman’s criticisms are so shallow and empty they don’t really say as much as people seem to think they say. Our media establishment doesn’t have the guts to shine a light on our currently prevailing ideology, so instead they pretend they’re being evenhanded, by giving selected Republicans (like Stockman and Ron Paul) an occasional platform to criticize parts of Republican ideology or policies. Basically, the Republicans are guaranteed to win the debate simply by having their own sock-puppets on all sides of it.

  8. says

    Sorry, I posted in haste. One of teh above sentences should have read: “…so instead they pretend they’re being evenhanded, by giving selected Republicans (like Stockman and Ron Paul) an occasional platform to criticize parts of Republican ideology or policies — without being required, or even allowed, to offer any actual alternative ideas that voters might be able to embrace.”

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dalillama, Schmott Guy @ # 6: Could you name one?

    Of course, I don’t & can’t speak for Michael Heath, but consider RP’s positions against the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, and drugs…

  10. Michael Heath says

    Dalillama, Schmott Guy writes:

    Are you seriously citing Ron Paul as someone who has “insightful, compelling arguments from the right”? Could you name one?

    Ron Paul’s paleoconservative-centric-friendly argument regarding al Qaeda. That the best way to reduce the supply of al Qaeda terrorists is to stop the establishment and/or enablement of tyrannical governments like Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Countries like them and others who were stealing their regions’ resources from the populace, while ending our interventionist military footprint in that part of the world with the exception of maintaining assurances of the supply of oil.

    Rep. Paul’s corrective action argument sits nicely on the premises developed by the CIA on the causes of al Qaeda attacking the U.S. Paul’s argument distinguished him from all the other 2008 and 2012 Republican presidential nominees who dishonestly, and especially in Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney’s rebuttals, vehemently denied these CIA premises existed in those debates.

  11. says

    @Pierce R. Butler #11 and F#7
    Paul’s policy on the drug war is to devolve it to the states, because ‘states rights.’ While that would allow e.g. medical marijuana in those states that currently allow it, it would also allow more conservative states to become ever more draconian in their drug wars. Furthermore, while he acknowledges racism of the Drug War, he doesn’t get credit for this, given the blatantly racist policies he does advocate and the flaming bigotry he has consistently displayed in his writings.His beliefs about imperialist wars stems from his extreme isolationism, which isn’t an insightful philosophy even if I agree with a few of the consequences of it.

    @Michael Heath #12
    I was not aware that Paul had such a nuanced understanding of that type of thing. You are correct, that is a much more insightful position than is displayed by the rest of the Right.

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