The Beltway, along with media pundits from both sides welcomed the VP selection of Paul Ryan because they thought it was a signal that the Romney camp was prepared to shift their campaign to a more substantive one. Paul Ryan, known for his budget and economic vision, was thought to change the conversation from vicious attack ads to serious economic policy.
Well, that didn’t happen, and it’s not surprising. The reason: Contrary to what the media believes, Ryan is not a substantive guy. People think he has serious plans for the country, but in reality the only thing he has are vague claims that fire up the Republican base – “Smaller Government!” “Cut the debt!” The only reason his plan has credibility in the Beltway is because those people are precisely the ones who gave him credibility in the first place. Paul Krugman lays out this argument better than I can – here.
The people who believe Ryan really does add some substance to the debate are simply mistaken. Although he is viewed as a deficit hawk, his plan doesn’t balance the budget until 2040. And that’s assuming all his math works. By reducing the tax code to two brackets (25% and 10%) Ryan’s plan offers a huge tax break that is paid for by closing loopholes in the current tax code. As I have pointed out before, he has yet to mention what loopholes he plans on closing. So, it’s hard to take Ryan as a serious deficit hawk when his proposal gives no specifics as to how it’s going to reduce the deficit. Further, if history tells us anything, Ryan is not concerned about the debt or paying for tax cuts. He voted for 2 unfunded wars, he voted for the Bush tax cuts without paying for them, and voted to extend them again without any funding. So Ryan might have the perception of fiscally responsible, but there is little evidence to prove he actually is.
Ryan is a lot like his running mate, Mitt Romney. As we learn more about Romney’s plan, the plausibility of it seriously comes into question. Romney’s plan brings government spending down to 20 percent of GDP without touching Medicare or Social Security, as well as setting a floor on defense spending at 4 percent The only way this math works, as Ezra Klein pointed out, is to cut everything else by an average of 40 percent; meaning, “Medicaid, infrastructure, education, food safety, road safety, the postal service, basic research, foreign aid, housing subsidies, food stamps, the Census, Pell grants, the Patent and Trademark Office, the FDA” would all see substantial cuts. Romney neglects to mention this in his plan. Besides the fact his cuts are politically impossible, they would have devastating consequences for, well, everyone.
Both Romney and Ryan make big promises without the slightest mention as to how they plan to fulfill those promises. Both plans sound good to the base, but it’s entirely unclear whether Ryan and Romney can or even want to achieve them. These are not the plans from people with serious ideas about reducing deficits and shrinking government, but rather they are plans from people pandering to the extreme right of their base.