America / Fiscal policy

Paul Ryan versus…what, exactly?

It’s budget season! Last week, the House Budget Committee released its annual budget proposal for FY 2014, the third iteration of the Ryan budget. But this year, for the first time since 2009, the Senate Budget Committee released its own proposal too. The release of both budgets last week was exciting not just for budget wonks, but it was also to be a positive sign – a chance for both sides to offer up ideas for comprehensive budget reform. At the start of the week, a New York Times headline read: “House and Senate Work Simultaneously to Create Budgets, a Rarity.”

But when the Senate Budget proposal finally came out on Wednesday, the result was a disappointingly vague plan.

Here is the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s breakdown of the Ryan budget, along with their corresponding savings/cost estimates:

House Budget

Proposal

Savings/Costs (-)

Retain the Sequester

$0

Enact Comprehensive Tax Reform

$0

Repeal Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act

$1,837

Block Grant Medicaid

$756

Reduce Medicare Costs Through Tort Reform, Means-Testing, and Part D Reforms

$129

Increase Federal Civilian Pension Contributions

$132

Reform Farm Subsidies

$31

Reform and Block Grant Food Stamps

$799

Reform PBGC
Wind Down Fannie and Freddie and Reform Financial Regulations
Reform Energy Subsidies and Reduce Land Purchases
Cut Other Mandatory Spending
Reduce Transportation and Other Discretionary Funding

$249

Reduce War & Disaster Spending Relative to CBO Baseline

$0

Interest Savings

$700

Total Deficit Reduction

 $4,633

Here is the CRFB’s breakdown of the Senate budget:

Senate Budget

Budget

Savings/Costs (-)

Sequester Repeal

$0

War and Sandy Drawdowns

$0

Taxes

$975

Discretionary

$380

Other Mandatory

$76

Health Spending

$275

Stimulus

($100)

Interest

$242

Total

$1,848

The point here is not so much a side-by-side comparison of savings/costs, since both budgets use different baselines. Instead, this shows the degree to which each budget details its proposals: a long list of specific spending cuts in the Ryan budget versus a hazy picture of general cuts and increased taxes in the Senate budget.

To the Senate’s credit, their budget also lays out a strong vision for investing in education, infrastructure, and research. However, its failure to specify the ways to pay for these programs is its greatest weakness, and it is a missed opportunity to present a clear alternative to the Ryan budget.

For example, one of the more controversial points of the Ryan budget is to turn Medicare into a premium support system. The Senate budget criticizes this approach, but its alternative is to reform Medicare and trim $275 billion “by further realigning incentives throughout the system, cutting waste and fraud, and seeking greater engagement across the health care system.”

Why is the Senate budget so vague? Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein suggests that it is intentionally ambiguous, given that the Senate Budget Committee  shouldn’t “usurp the role of individual Senate committees.” But this moment – the first Senate budget in four years – is not the time to be timid with ideas. Without the Senate’s specific ideas on spending cuts, we are left with little more than a hazy plan to contrast with the Ryan budget, which leaves much to be desired in this budget debate.

The Senate Democrats may argue that the Paul Ryan’s budget is “cruel” in the many ways that it slashes funding, but at least it is a budget with ideas that we can discuss. I’m still waiting for the Democrats to do the same.

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