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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paul Ryan, True-Believerism, and the Coming GOP Medicare Fiasco

Rep. Paul Ryan
It's a warning I haven't written about in a while, but beware of true believers. I used it more during the Bush administration, when the neocons were ignoring the fact that the invasion of Iraq just wasn't working. The neocons had a domino theory for Iraq; Saddam Hussein falls and -- for some unexplained reason -- the middle east stabilizes, Israel becomes everyone's buddy, and Democracy breaks out all over the place. Everything was falling down around their ears, but the line from the Cheneyite wing of the White House seemed to be "It will work! It will! The theory is so beautiful and perfect, it can't possibly be flawed."

This is why you should always beware true believers. They're the fanatics, the zealots, the guys who are absolutely certain the flawless idea can't fail. They're the ones who believe that when something's not working, you need to do more of it. And they seem to be incapable of recognizing failure. They're the doctor in the bad medical drama, pounding a patient's chest and shouting, "Damn you! Don't you die on me!" Except the true believer would keep pumping away until the body was stiff. The TV doctor listens when someone tells them it's over, the true believer thinks it's impossible for it to be over.

The neocon true-believerism was bloody and disastrous. Other kinds are simply disastrous. And, luckily, the example of true-believerism offered today only harms the true believers.


To Democrats, the release of the House GOP budget is like Christmas in March. And they’re planning a celebration of sorts.

Democrats are organizing media blitzes, House floor speeches and town halls back home to seize on the changes to Medicare that Republicans are expected to propose Tuesday. To blunt GOP talking points that only Republicans are willing to confront the debt, Democrats intend to unveil their own budget next week calling for a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes on the rich.


The Republican budget plan last year was a political winner for Democrats, and party leaders expect nothing less this time around.


At the heart of the Democrats’ war against the House GOP proposal — spearheaded by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — is its plan to dramatically reshape Medicare in order to contain costs and keep the health care program for seniors viable. This year’s budget is expected to incorporate a modified version of the Medicare revamp drafted by both Ryan and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would allow seniors to keep the traditional Medicare program or enroll in an alternative private plan.

Yes, Rep. Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand true believer extraordinaire. If you looked back, you'd see the Republican's slide to where they are today begin with the last version of the Ryan plan. And here it is again; all polished up and shiny and ready for another shot. Only slightly modified since the last one and pretty much guaranteed to be as unpopular.

The only real difference here is in the marketing. The true believer can't grasp that their beautiful and perfect argument could possibly be rejected, so he makes the assumption that people either didn't understand it or that he framed the argument poorly. Let's look at this another way, Ryan says, let's say my plan "strengthens the safety net." People seem to give a crap about that (although it seems Ryan can't understand why), so let's brand it that way.

The problem of course is that it doesn't. At all. Matthew Yglesias took a look at the plan (which is just a framework lacking any sort of specifics, by the way) and found that Ryan's idea of the social safety net seems to consist entirely of Medicare. Ryan's spinning cuts to Medicare as saving it, because he's following the argument -- made since Medicare was first introduced -- that the program is going to go bankrupt tomorrow, if not sooner.

"Because health care is projected to grow more expensive over the next fifty years, the cost of this program is projected to go up substantially," Yglesias writes. "One way of preventing that from happening is to just refuse to pony up the money, and make Medicaid beneficiaries get by with less health care. And that's what Ryan's plan does. On the one hand, it excuses states from their minimum coverage responsibilities. On the other hand, it reduces the amount of money that's available to give people coverage. Which is all about what you'd expect from a tax cutting Ayn Rand fan. Keep the money in the hands of the job creators who earned it rather than handing it out to the moochers and looters looking for a little free medicine."

So no, it doesn't "strengthen the safety net," because it's not meant to. It's meant to cut spending beyond the bare minimum, in order to help pay for a ten percent cut in corporate tax rates. And the math still doesn't add up. How we'll be able to afford Ryan's tax break bonanza for the 1% and still achieve deficit reduction (which is supposedly the whole point here) is one of those sketchy, "we'll get to that later" details he conveniently leaves out.

This was a disaster for the GOP the last time around and it's hard to see why it would fly any better now. In fact, this time around, it's probably worse. In an election year, Republicans are backing a plan that cuts Medicare -- and the only thing they have to hide behind is a fig leaf of spin.

I guess this time my warning about true believers is for Republicans. Paul Ryan is not an asset, guys. And this is not the beautiful and perfect plan he says it is.


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