Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan - A serious pick

PJ of Viable Opposition has asked for my opinion on the choice of Paul Ryan for the Republican VP nomination. I can't delve into the strategic and tactical considerations the way professional pundits do. This is just my gut reaction: it's a good, solid pick.

When the GOP didn't know what their fiscal program should look like, this guy provided the roadmap. When the GOP asked themselves WTF were they going to do about Medicare (without being too scary), this guy came through again. The only other Republicans to submit budget plans were Ron Paul and ...  Rand Paul?!? (And the RINOs on the Simpson-Bowles commission, but they don't count in this GOP.)

So there's a bit less pixie dust in the Romney campaign today. But there's still plenty because the Ryan's latest budget has plenty of handwaving.

I also notice that Ryan doesn't want to be the heavy who tells Grandma that she can't have spinal fusion or a kidney transplant or has run out of dialysis days, so he's passing the job on to insurance companies. Great way to handle that difficult issue, GOP. Now you don't even have to try to contain medical costs--that is being outsourced in the traditional GOP fashion.

Nonetheless, Ryan has given the GOP the method for containing Medicare costs. Under his plan, they would soon be deciding how large the pot of money is, and that's what Americans will get for their vouchers subsidized premiums. It's a better solution than the-sky's-the-limit. I can't say much more in its favor than that.

I look forward to a bit more substantial campaign, and a much closer look at the Ryan budget and its fudges. At least there will be some numbers--something for a nerd like me to crunch on.


Flashback: Romney was always going to pick someone solid. At least the campaign should be more substantial.

A Bloomberg summary of Ryan budget positions.

Crude joke that you may want to skip. You can misread the headline as: Paul Ryan - A serious prick. 


A Political Junkie said...

Thanks for answering my question. While the guy scares the heck out of me and many of my American friends, he is a serious contender and is a much better pick than a certain governor from the Far North. At least Paul Ryan has substance, something that was lacking from the 2008 choice.

I don't know if you caught my musings on the state of health care in America but the bottom line is that the status quo is unsustainable, particularly as the baby boomers pass into their twilight years. Unfortunately for all of us, the solution is going to be very, very painful.

A Political Junkie said...

...and, I forgot to thank you for sticking up for me on my extreme weather posting. As a scientist, there is nothing about the climate change debate that has annoyed me more than having science hijacked by a group of people with an agenda that is being funded by industrial interests or a group of politicians that have absolutely no knowledge of science or the scientific method.

ModeratePoli said...

I don't find Paul Ryan as scary as someone who won't do math. Math can be an implacable critic.

I'm aware of the worrying signs--that Ryan ignored some of his earlier calculations in order to support additional tax cuts (IIRC--I don't feel like fact-checking this morning). But he's still less frightening than someone like Gingrich or Bachmann or Cain.

As you know, I think about medical costs a lot, and I wish I had a stronger handle on how to pare them back without impeding essential medical care. I'm a big supporter of hospice, which I witness first-hand. It's much better than dying in the hospital.

As for standing up for you on the climate postings, I hope you realize that we're both standing up for the scientific evidence and letting people know that they have to face the hard truth. All fantasy worlds come crashing down on people eventually, so it's much better to be a clear-eyed scientist.

The industrial interests who fund climate change denial--aren't they mostly elderly, like the Koch brothers? The next generation will probably not be so blindly self-interested. Can you stand my optimism?

Anonymous said...

I agree Paul Ryan is serious like a college student who first reads Ayn Rand is "serious". That's not too far from the truth, except Ryan never grew out of his Rand phase.

Ryan's a serious politician, as far as that goes, in that he's skilled at selling the conservative agenda where Romney is not. But's it's still the same lower-tax-rates-for-the-rich-no-matter-what school of economics, right out of Rand.

His budget's real target is Medicaid, since in the Randian view healthcare for the masses is a waste of resources; the wealthy and capable can always find someone healthy to do the chores.

But what we now have is a "choice" election, which is what Obama and the Dems wanted, and Romney wanted to avoid and just glide into the White House. They will now have to fight for it, as will Obama and the Dems now. The Ryan pick, and Romney essentially endorsing his and the Hosue GOP budget prescription, make it more likely that the Dems can nationalize the election in House races and retake that chamber.

The Dems can also lose big, too, if the GOP can convince enough people that austerity is actually good for them but not for the wealthy. It's a tough sell strictly on fixing the debt situation, especially since they don't really mean it (it's just another excuse to cut taxes for Randian success stories) and they won't say how to pay for the tax cuts they want. But Ryan's the guy to try it, and we will have a more substantive discussion. Still, Romney can't dodge not releasing his tax returns. He's just saved himself a few news cycles.

Oh, and PJ, if you have trouble with global warming deniers, just remind them that cameras were around 100 years ago, and we have picture of glaciers back then that are completely gone now.

Anonymous said...

I have a hunch that Romney and his advisers picked Paul Ryan not because he is different from (and better than) Ron Paul and Rand Paul, but rather because he similar to them. The goal was to lasso in one key group--the Ron Paul groupies who make up about 15% of the electorate. Some identify as Republicans, some as Independents, but they were suspicious enough to Romney to plead Ron Paul to run as an independent and to threaten to sit out the presidential election. Romney knows that Paul Ryan's starve-the-government, all-wealth-to-the-wealthy, if-you're-poor-it's-your-own-fault rhetoric (taken right out of Ayn Rand) will play well with them. He's gambling that he'll gain that 15% voting bloc without alienating too many of the undecided moderates.

It's going to be close, but it's my hunch that Romney miscalculated. Who isn't happy? First, middle-aged people (those approaching age 55) whose chances for a financially-secure retirement go up in smoke in Ryan's plan. Women in reproductive years, who don't like the idea of increased government intrusion into the most intimate areas of their lives. And surprisingly, Roman Catholic leaders. One (Romney?) might have thought that Ryan's stance on reproductive issues would draw them in, especially after that flap a couple months ago about mandatory coverage of birth control. However, the first response from Roman Catholic leaders was negative, because they loath Ayn Rand's philosophy and its lack of charity for the poor. (They are right; it's profoundly anti-Christian.) Senior citizens currently on Medicare might not be at risk in Ryan's plan, but the Democrats might be able to obscure that point sufficiently to undermine Romney's chances in key states, such as Florida.

ModeratePoli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ModeratePoli said...

@Anon, we posted at almost the same time, and I had to modify my comments based on your interesting speculation about Ron Paul supporters.

I agree that Romney hoped he could coast into the White House, but has apparently looked at the polling and concluded it won't happen.

The choice of Ryan might have signaled a pivot to a more substance/policy based campaign, but I doubt that. Romney has probably crunched those numbers and a campaign on actual budget cuts won't win him enough votes either. So maybe you're right--Romney hopes to pick up enough Ron Paul supporters.

It will be interesting to watch this is the next few weeks. With your hypothesis in mind, I'll be watching for Ron Paul news closely. Excellent tip!

truth > spin said...

Anon - I disagree with so much of your last comment.

Please tell me how it is that under the status quo or the reelection of Obama that the middle aged's chances of a financially secure retirement already hasn't gone up in smoke. Obama opposed Simpson-Bowles (MP's favored litmus for fiscal stewardship) and hasn't offered anything that begins to bend the curve on entitlements. The Medicare savings in ACA are illusory at this point (after the doc fix, consider me from Missouri) and even at full strength would represent a fraction of a fraction of what is needed. Hitting the brick wall at 99MPH is no better than hitting it at 100MPH. So the invariable outcome of the coming train wreck is that the middle class is going to have to live on much less than prior generations did relative to what they put into the kitty. How much less is going to depend on how soon we recognize that. If we do it soon, the pain will be shared by more people and as a result won't be as severe. If we continue the fantasy can kicking, it will have to be more drastic. I wish this isn't true, but it is. I wish one of the parties could truly claim the high ground, but they can't. Still, even if they don't ever put the ideas they espouse into place once in office, the GOP is at least intellectually more honest than the left on these matters.

And having grown up a Massachusetts Catholic, I can tell you that push come to shove, the abortion issue trumps the charity issue. The virgin birth, Christ as the infant son of God and the implantation of the soul at conception are the core of the faith. Charity, while important and among the Church's main programs and works, is ancillary by comparisons. It doesn't matter whether you and I agree with this priority (I don't, frankly) or whether many, many Catholics agree (they don't either, frankly), but the Church as an institution will not yield on this. Expecting them to do so is a huge misreading of the faith.

Finally, please tell me what supports your position that Ryan / the GOP wants all wealth to go to the wealthy? Stand and deliver, my friend. Is anyone in the Romney / Ryan camp calling for the end of progressive tax rates? Is anyone suggesting that those at higher incomes pay lower tax rates on the same forms of income?

Anonymous said...

Well, I pay a higher tax rate than Romney already, and my salary and investment income doesn't even come close to reaching 6 figures. So even today's "progressive" tax rate isn't very progressive. Ryan's plan makes the situation even worse; I'd pay a lot more so that Romney could pay a lot less.
I looked at my own retirement plans, which are fairly typical for a prudent person. Medicare and Social Security are significant parts of the equation. Especially Medicare; private health insurance is sure to become unaffordable for seniors if companies are left to do whatever they want (pre-ACA). Yes, the system needs fixes, but Ryan's "plan" just makes things worse for the people Medicare and Social Security are supposed to benefit. And it does so in order to enrich the rich still further.
I have a pretty good handle on Christian teachings on reproduction, and historically they have been a lot more malleable than you suggest. The Roman Catholic Church could (but probably won't) change its stance on contraception (again) and even on abortion (again). However, it could follow the lead of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which regard such matters as pastoral, between parishioners and their priests, rather than matters for government to dictate to everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike. That already happens in a lot of countries, where contraception and access to abortion are guaranteed as part of normal health coverage, and the Roman Catholic Church has ceased to support or condemn candidates because of their stances on those issues. Be that as it may, it was quite a surprise (a good surprise) to read the news stories in which Catholic leaders decried Ryan's lack of concern for the poor.

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, I wanted Anon to answer before I chimed in. Regarding Catholics, I don't think they're at all monolithic. I agree with you and disagree with Anon on the Catholic leaders. They will probably support Romney, as they often have for the socially conservative candidate. However, the Catholic population seems largely independent of their leaders, and they'll follow their own consciences. @truth, isn't that your experience with Catholics in this country?

truth > spin said...

@MP - I agree that the "Catholic population seems largely independent of their leaders, and they'll follow their own consciences". Many will vote for Romney and many will vote for Obama as a result of other issues, more so than singularly the abortion issue in my view. All the data I've seen (and again, anecdotally based on my experience growing up in a RC family and among Christian friends, for what it is worth) indicates that other Christian faiths tend to be more moved by the abortion issue than Catholics. While Obama hasn't appeared to me to be agitating against the status quo on the matter too much, the mandated birth control coverage issue is a new wrinkle that hasn't been part of the voting equation yet. We will have to see if that upsets the preference for the quite small middle ground that surrounds the status quo. I think I am a pretty typical person in that I don't want choice taken away and generally am uncomfortable with those who wear religion on their public sleeves. However, I am also made uncomfortable by those who don't blink an eye at the number of abortions performed or who want to think of it as being no different than any other medical procedure. Even if I (and they) can't quantify exactly why it is different to someone else's satisfaction, it just is.

truth > spin said...

@Anon - you don't pay a higher tax rate than Romney. When you compare apples to apples, there is no way this is true. Yes, because much of his income stems from sources that are taxed as gains or dividends, his effective rate on his total may be less than the effective rate on your total. But his rate on the wage portion of his income is going to be higher than yours. Further, maybe you have done it, but if not, you might want to take out your tax returns again. It is quite likely that even if most of your income is wage based, that Romney paid more than you did using just the effective rate. Unless you are an unusual case, you probably own a home and itemize deductions, etc. Maybe put a few dollars into an IRA or have an extra credit or two that reduces your tax obligation. Add that all up, and you might be surprised. Let's take a look...

I encourage you to review actual IRS data . Great stuff here:,,id=129270,00.html Specifically, see this downloadable chart:

Since you've said that your "salary and investment income doesn't even come close to reaching 6 figures", I'll put you in the $50,000 to $75,000 category to make this example. If you want to correct me, I'll do the math for that. In any case, for $50 to $75k, some 19 million individual returns were filed by people in this group in 2008 (most recent data), which happens to be the largest. On average, they paid about $5,600 in total income taxes. Even if we do the math for those who only barely hit the threshold of $50,000, they only paid an effective rate of 11.27%. That's $5,600 in taxes divided by $50,000 in AGI (and keep in mind that AGI already has removed some income (IRAs, student loan interest, tuition credits, etc). At $75,000 in income, paying $5,600 would mean an effective rate of 7.5%.

As I recall, much was made of Romney paying what? 14%. Unless you are a very unusual case, Anon, I don't think you pay an effective rate higher than 14%. In fact, according to Polifact ( the rates break down as follows:

"If you just look at income taxes, Obama is incorrect. Here are the average effective tax rates for Americans in different slices of the income spectrum, according to a study by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. These figures show that many people, particularly at the lower end of the income scale, actually have negative rates because they get back more from the government than they paid in taxes.
Bottom fifth of earners: -12.3 percent
Second-to-bottom fifth: -4.2 percent
Middle fifth: 4.1 percent
Second-highest fifth: 8.2 percent
Highest fifth: 17.3 percent"

So you know, the highest fifth starts at above $100,000, so that isn't you. So at most, people in your cohort pay an average of 8.2%. Romney then pays an effective rate that is 70% more than you do. Progressive enough yet?

truth > spin said...

I'd like to add one more comment to the two above: that Romney pays an effective that is 70% more than Anon's isn't a bad thing as far as I am concerned. Our income tax code should be progressive.

I also differ from many in the GOP in my thinking that the rates for labor should not be as much out of line as the rates on income that is capital-based.

But even where we stand now, I think it is important that we not allow a distortion of reality to inform policy. Anon's claim of paying a higher rate than Romney's is a perfect example of this. I am certainly not asking the 99% to thank the 1% for carrying so much of the freight; the 1% do just fine and mostly ignore the rabble anyway. Yet, a reality based conversation that began with acknowledging that the well off are paying their "fair share" relative to everyone else might allow us to then to move to the next point, which is that while spending must be contained, more dollars are going to be needed to make a dent in the tab we've run up. And after paying for their own upkeep, the lower and middle income groups don't have a lot of left over resources with which to pitch in much more than they do. Those groups are going to "contribute" more in the form of getting less from our dear uncle.

@Anon - I am being so forceful with your example because you provided the details with which to be specific in a response. And, given your thoughtful and persuasive comments of the past, I know you can take it. :)

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, I agree with what you say, but you don't address some important issues that are involved in the tax rate discussion. Among the issues are who in society benefitted the most for the BushII years, who suffered the most in the continuing poor economy, and who's going to have to give up what when the budgets are reworked.

I see those issues underlying the arguments about the budget. It seems like a lot of liberals blame the wealthy, and want to make sure they don't weasel out of the inevitable sacrifice. Among conservatives, it seems most want to blame 'big government' and they want to shrink it, and they don't see a role for sacrifice on the part of the wealthy that the liberals see.

It certainly complicates budget negotiations and tax reform to have all these resentment, but it's in the air.

truth > spin said...

MP – I think your question about fairness is a core one. It’s often asked in a more round-about and accusatory way, i.e. that Bush (and similar GOP-based) policies have benefited the well off at the expense of those who are less well off. The rich get richer, poor get poorer, and all that.

Before we look for data to support or invalidate this, we ought to be clear and try to agree about what we are looking for and what it would mean, first.

There are three ways that I can think of that the charge could be true. If you can think of others, I would love to consider them as well.
1. The government has actively taken money from lower earners and given it to higher earners. Call this direct transfer.
2. The government has put policies into place that have resulted in wages shifting in favor of high earners. Call this indirect transfer.
3. The government has failed to take steps to slow or stop non-governmental forces that are shifting wages in favor of higher earners. Call this inaction transfer.

I’ll stop here so we can see if we agree on the hypothesis and the tests of it.

ModeratePoli said...

@truth, i think we have to explore other ways of money transfer. Here are several others.

4. Government adds services that benefit one sector more than another.

5. Government reduces services that benefit one sector more than another.

6. Government makes implicit or explicit guarantees that must be paid by future generations. (How do we measure who that will hurt?)

My schedule will keep me busier and away from heavy duty thinking for several days. Please continue in my absence.

However, I do have an important question. Do you know any low-wage workers who receive the Earned Income credit? I think it's important to have an idea the issue they face if we're going to talk about the effect of transfer that occurs in the EIC.

truth > spin said...

MP - I ought to have used the term benefits rather than wages in my 2nd and 3rd scenarios. That's what I was thinking about, and I was thinking that should capture your 3 add ons.

For you EIC question, the answer is yes. Members of my own extended family have benefited from it and other income supports through the years. None do today, although I have friends who still do. I agree that knowing how the rubber meets the road is important, if not critical.

truth > spin said...

I'm out of town until Sunday night myself, so I'll be thinking if not writing more.