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GOP Hypes April Fool's Budget at Obama Meeting

January 30, 2010

During their unprecedented televised gathering Friday, 140 House Republicans were intellectually and politically outnumbered by President Obama. Perhaps on no subject was the rout more complete than on the federal budget. Led by Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Republicans touted their own alternative budget proposed by Wisconsin's Paul Ryan. But as Americans should recall, with its new windfalls for the wealthy, gutting of social programs and privatization of Medicare, that budget was laughed off the national stage - and not just because it was unveiled on April Fool's Day.
When the House Republican leadership with great fanfare initially released the GOP budget proposal in late March, it was greeted with guffaws. The 19 page outline was detail-free, failing even George W. Bush's test ("It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."). And while Rep. Ryan boasted "while we criticize, we propose," Minority Leader John Boehner went much further:

"Two nights ago, the president said we haven't seen a budget yet of the Republicans," said House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). "Well, it's not true, because here it is Mr. President." He waved a thin document called "The Republican Road to Recovery" that describes the GOP proposal.

The DNC's National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan summed up the consensus reaction in his response:

"After 27 days, the best House Republicans could come up with is a 19-page pamphlet that does not include a single real budget proposal or estimate. There are more numbers in my last sentence than there are in the entire House GOP 'budget.'"

So the next week on April Fool's Day - you can't make this stuff up - Ryan returned to pronounce that Boehner's was merely a "marketing document." Rep. Ryan clarified further, "The thing you saw last week was not the alternative budget, this is our alternative budget," adding, "'Somewhere along the line there was a misimpression given that that was our budget."
And what a budget it was. For a nation experiencing a catastrophic recession, as the Washington Post reported on April 2, 2009:

After getting blasted last week for presenting a budget plan light on details, House Republicans yesterday unveiled a more complete proposal that would cut taxes for businesses and the wealthy, freeze most government spending for five years, halt spending approved in the economic stimulus package and slash federal health programs for the poor and elderly.

In his successor to the "not a budget" proposal, Ryan offered the same snake oil his party has been selling since the days of Reagan and Bush. The cure for what ailed the U.S. economy, it turns out, is a massive tax windfall for the wealthiest Americans who need it least.
The alternative Republican budget doubled down on the wildly regressive Bush/McCain tax cutting binge American voters rejected at the polls in November. Making the budget-busting Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent, the GOP also proposed an alternative "highly simplified system that fits on a post card, with few deductions and two rates." Taxpayers making over $100,000 would see their rate drop to 25% from its current high of 35%. (Below that level, the rate drops to 10%.) Corporate taxes would also drop to 25%. While the capital gains tax rate would be frozen at its post-2003 level of 15%, the estate tax would be eliminated altogether.
The predictable result is yet another massive redistribution of the tax burden away from the richest Americans even as it produced a torrent of red ink. While the Center for American Progress concluded the Boehner-Ryan giveaway would hand an annual tax bonanza of $1.5 million to the average CEO, a preliminary analysis from the Center for Tax Justice last week concluded that by 2011, the GOP scheme would drain the Treasury to the tune of $300 billion more than the Obama plan. And as is par for the course for the Republicans, the usual upper-income suspects benefit the most:

Over a fourth of taxpayers, mostly low-income families, would pay more in taxes under the House GOP plan than they would under the President's plan.

The richest one percent of taxpayers would pay $100,000 less, on average, under the House GOP plan than they would under the President's plan.

(It should be noted the CTJ model was preliminary and does not necessarily reflect the final details in today's GOP budget document. For example, CTJ assumed a capital gains tax rate of 10% and not 15%.)
But the ironies don't end there. While Republicans all year warned of mythical cuts to Medicare (which, of course, they have opposed from its inception), the Ryan budget proposed privatizing altogether the health insurance program that serves 46 million American seniors. As Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly noted:

In April, 137 Republicans voted in support of a GOP alternative budget. It didn't generate a lot of attention, but the plan, drafted by the House Budget Committee's Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called for "replacing the traditional Medicare program with subsidies to help retirees enroll in private health care plans."
The AP noted at the time that Republican leaders were "clearly nervous that votes in favor of the GOP alternative have exposed their members to political danger."

(In July, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner called their bluff, introducing an amendment that would eliminate "government-run Medicare." No Republicans voted for it.)
Still, Jeb Hensarling on Friday insisted, "since that budget was ignored, what were the old annual deficits under Republicans have now become the monthly deficits under Democrats. The national debt has increased 30 percent." Before making clear to both Hensarling and Ryan that he was well acquainted with their budget proposal, President Obama offered a response that captured the magnitude of the House Republicans' public relations defeat yesterday:

"Now, look, let's talk about the budget once again, because I'll go through it with you line by line. The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion. -- $1.3 [trillion.] So when you say that suddenly I've got a monthly budget that is higher than the -- a monthly deficit that's higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that's factually just not true, and you know it's not true."

Just like April Fool's Day, the joke was on the Republican Party.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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