Why the New Ryan Budget Will Likely Be at Least as Extreme as Last Year’s

March 31, 2014 at 10:51 am

We’ve issued a short paper on what to look for in the budget that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is expected to release this week.  Here’s the opening:

Basic budget arithmetic suggests that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s coming budget will be at least as extreme as his budget last year, and likely more so.  The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) latest deficit projections are roughly $1 trillion higher over the coming decade than last year’s projections.  If the new Ryan budget, slated for release this week, is to achieve the same goals as last year’s — reaching balance within ten years and reversing sequestration cuts in defense without raising revenues — it will need to expand its already steep cuts in domestic programs by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Last year, Ryan’s budget focused its deepest cuts on programs that benefit low-income people.  These cuts, which included massive reductions in Medicaid and SNAP (formerly food stamps) as well as the repeal of all health reform benefits, constituted about 72 percent of the budget’s total program cuts.  As a result, last year’s budget would have resulted in large increases in poverty and deprived many millions of affordable health insurance.  Further cuts in low-income programs are highly likely if the new Ryan budget again relies solely on program cuts while boosting defense funding and avoiding any cuts in Social Security and additional savings in Medicare.

As in past years, Chairman Ryan may not provide many details about how his proposed cuts would be achieved.  Last year, he called for converting Medicaid and SNAP to block grants, leaving it to the states to make the tough choices about which poor children, low-income seniors, or people with disabilities would not receive help.  Similarly, his budget included about $660 billion of unspecified ten-year cuts in mandatory programs — failing even to specify which programs would be cut.  And it gave little or no details on how to cut non-defense discretionary programs more than $600 billion below the already very austere post-sequestration levels.

With almost $1.3 trillion in unspecified ten-year cuts and its Medicaid and SNAP cuts occurring through block grants, last year’s Ryan budget obscured its real impact and the severe hardship it would impose.  Its lack of specificity, and the decision to wall off large parts of the budget from any deficit reduction at all, belied any attempt to portray that budget as a courageous document that makes hard choices.

Click here for the full paper.

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