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Bill Black: Slate's William Saletan Epitomizes Media's Bizarre Infatuation with Paul Ryan

Saletan is head-over-heals in love with Paul Ryan and his DOA budget fantasy.

William Saletan has written a column that epitomizes the media’s bizarre infatuation with Paul Ryan.  Saletan entitles his piece “Why I Love Paul Ryan.”  His intro summarizes his attraction to Ryan:  “He’s what a Republican should be: an honest, open-minded, solution-oriented fiscal conservative.”

Here is how Saletan attempts to show that Ryan is worthy of his unconditional love.

“Ryan is a real fiscal conservative. He isn’t just another Tea-Party ideologue spouting dogma about less government and the magic of free enterprise. He has actually crunched the numbers and laid out long-term budget proposals. My liberal friends point out that Ryan’s plan leaves many details unclear. That’s true. But show me another Republican who has addressed the nation’s fiscal problems as candidly and precisely as Ryan has. He’s got the least detailed budget proposal out there, except for all the others.”

Ryan is the leading Tea Party ideologue.  He is an Ayn Rand devotee.  (His attempts to deny that prove that he is dishonest.)  No, he did not “actually crunch[] the numbers and la[y] out long-term budget proposals.”  You may read reports that the Ryan budget plan achieves a balanced budget in 2040.  That is not correct.  He created fantasy numbers, instructed the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to suspend disbelief (and its normal methodology, which actually crunches the numbers) and treat the fantasy numbers as real.  He had to order the CBO to accept his fictional, numbingly over-optimistic numbers as reality in order to achieve a faux balanced budget nearly three decades from now.  Absent the fictions his non-budget never eliminates the deficit.  Ryan’s deliberate misuse of the CBO to attempt to lend credibility to partisan fantasy numbers is a cynical act of dishonesty.  The CBO issued this warning about Ryan’s manipulation of the budget estimation process.

At the request of the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul Ryan, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has calculated the long-term budgetary impact of paths for federal revenues and spending specified by the Chairman and his staff. The calculations presented here represent CBO’s assessment of how the specified paths would alter the trajectories of federal debt, revenues, spending, and economic output relative to the trajectories under two scenarios that CBO has analyzed previously. Those calculations do not represent a cost estimate for legislation or an analysis of the effects of any given policies. In particular, CBO has not considered whether the specified paths are consistent with the policy proposals or budget figures released today by Chairman Ryan as part of his proposed budget resolution.

The amounts of revenues and spending to be used in these calculations for 2012 through 2022 were provided by Chairman Ryan and his staff.

Even that was not sufficient to make Ryan’s budget “work” so he left huge blanks in his non-budget, e.g., tax revenues, where he wished away the budgetary difficulties he claims to be resolving.  Saletan’s defense of Ryan’s putative wonkiness consists of two arguments that do not pass even the most basic logic tests.  First, he tries to diminish the Ryan’s fantasy numbers and budgetary black holes with the concession that “Ryan’s plan leaves many details unclear.”  No, it leaves massive, core budget numbers blank or created by make believe.  Ryan made up the numbers and knew that he had to order the CBO to suspend disbelief and its normal methodology and to repeat after him:  “I do believe in Fairies!”   Ryan is presenting a Tinker Bell budget.  (Paul Krugman has long emphasized that austerity proponents rely on the claim that austerity will make the “Confidence Fairy” appear and simultaneously reduce the deficit and spur a recovery.  The invisible Confidence Fairy, sadly, has failed to show up in Europe.  Austerity has thrown the Eurozone back into recession and much of the periphery into depression.)