In two August 2 articles, The Washington Post highlighted the purported deficit-reducing effects of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) economic "roadmap," in one piece misleadingly reporting the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) "estimate" of his "plan." However, at Ryan's instruction, CBO did not analyze significant tax changes found in his proposal that would likely reduce revenues CBO assumed would be collected.
Washington Post misleadingly touted Ryan's plan as a solution to the deficit
Wash. Post misleadingly reported that CBO "has estimated" the plan "would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020." An August 2 PostPolitics piece reported:"The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Rep. Paul Ryan's plan would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020. Democrats say voters would not back his reductions in Medicare and Social Security."
In a separate article, the Post advanced Ryan's claim his budget would "fix the problem" with the "completely unsustainable" debt. In an August 2 article, the Post reported:
Instead, Ryan is running a campaign of a different sort, one his party has so far refused to adopt: He is determined to persuade colleagues to get serious about eliminating the national debt, even if it means openly broaching overhauls of Medicare and Social Security.
He speaks in apocalyptic terms, saying the debt is "completely unsustainable" and warning that "it will crash our economy." He urges fellow politicians, and voters, to stop pretending that this problem will go away on its own.
He administers his sermons with evangelical zeal. He will go anywhere and talk to anyone who will listen. When he is not writing op-eds and appearing on television, he can often be found speaking to liberal and conservative audiences alike about his "Roadmap for America's Future," a plan he says would fix the problem.
Wash. Post painted Ryan as an "intellectual" who "[u]nlike most politicians" is working to "bring down the debt." The Post's article was filled with praise of Ryan, repeatedly suggesting that unlike "most politicians of either party" Ryan has produced a serious plan to reduce the deficit. The Post also described Ryan as "cerebral" and as an "intellectual":
Unlike most politicians of either party, [Ryan] doesn't speak generically about reducing spending, but he does acknowledge the very real cuts in popular programs that will be required to bring down the debt.
He is a loyal Republican, but he is also perhaps the GOP's leading intellectual in Congress and occasionally seems to forget that he is a politician himself.
Ryan, who represents his home town of Janesville, a small city in southern Wisconsin, does not fit the picture of a typical congressman. He is cerebral and slips easily into academic jargon; he grew up with plans to be an economist.
In 2008, he put out the first version of his budget-balancing plan. It has grown into a voluminous document that includes page after page of minutely detailed charts and tables, and includes a 75-year analysis of how the changes he proposes would affect the federal debt.
Democrats and Republicans alike praise Ryan as one of the few members of either party to offer a fix for costly entitlements.
Ryan instructed CBO not to account for "significant changes to the tax system" in his plan
CBO: Analysis assumes tax revenues up to 19 percent of GDP under a "current fiscal policy" scenario rather than estimating revenues under his plan. From CBO's January 27 analysis of Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future Act":
Other Tax Provisions. The proposal would make significant changes to the tax system. However, as specified by your staff, for this analysis total federal tax revenues are assumed to equal those under CBO's alternative fiscal scenario (which is one interpretation of what it would mean to continue current fiscal policy) until they reach 19 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030, and to remain at that share of GDP thereafter.
Tax Policy Center's Gleckman: "[T]here is not the slightest evidence" CBO's assumption reflects Ryan's revenue proposals, which include huge tax cuts. From Howard Gleckman's February 4 post on the Tax Policy Center's TaxVox blog:
CBO assumed this wonderful outcome would occur only if the revenue portion of Ryan's plan generated 19 percent of GDP in taxes. And there is not the slightest evidence that would happen. Even though Ryan's plan has a detailed tax component, his staff asked CBO to ignore it. Rather than estimate the true revenue effects of the Ryan plan, CBO simply assumed, as the lawmaker requested, that it would generate revenues of 19 percent of GDP.
Ryan would: turn the current exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance into a refundable credit; allow people to choose to pay either under the current income tax system or a two-rate, broad-based alternative; replace the corporate income tax with a business consumption tax, and exclude from tax dividends, capital gains, interest, and estates.
We don't have any idea what this plan would do to revenues, but in some ways it resembles former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson's campaign plan. TPC figured that scheme would reduce tax revenues by between $6 trillion and $8 trillion over 10 years. Unless Ryan can achieve unrealistically large cuts in spending as well, this is not exactly a roadmap to solvency in my book.