Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan: Hiding Cruel Policies Behind the Smiley Faces

Let’s hope the news media catch on to Paul Ryan. Behind his reasonable appearance and intellectual pretensions are right-wing policy proposals that would intensify poverty and deprive countless women of the right to abortion.


Ryan, elected speaker of the House last week, is a favorite of Washington journalists, who are impressed with his politeness and think-tank mastery of budget details. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, running for the Republican presidential nomination, makes the same good impression when he talks in impenetrable detail about his specialty, tax cuts for the rich. Like Ryan, he offers his proposal with a fresh, sunny face that is a contrast to the perpetual outrage of the tea party lawmakers. Reporters, sadly, are too often suckers for a smile.

Appearance and style mean much in political journalism, because they are more entertaining and easier to write about than public policy. On assuming his office, Ryan showed the style that journalists admire when he gave a speech that seemed to distance himself from his unruly tea party colleagues who had brought the House to a halt. He said, “Let’s be frank. The House is broken. ... And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean.”

That prompted columnist Dana Milbank to write in The Washington Post, “I felt goose bumps watching from the gallery, for a most unfamiliar sense of hope had admitted itself to the bitterly divided chamber. In this dark hour for the House, there was a tantalizing glimpse that the institution, which has strayed so far from what the Founders created, could heal itself.”

David Brooks, the New York Times voice of what the think-tank people call reform conservatism, didn’t confess to feeling goose bumps. But he embraced the cult of Ryanism. And he extended his admiration to Rubio, who has become the latest media favorite in the Republican race.

“So after all the meshugas on the right over the past few years, the Republicans could wind up with two new leaders going into this election, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan,” Brooks wrote. “That’s a pretty excellent outcome for a party that has shown an amazing tendency to inflict self-harm.”

Actually, Ryan and Rubio are every bit as meshuga (Yiddish for “crazy”) as the tea party.

Take the infamous Ryan budget, which rolled out of the budget committee he chaired in 2014. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed it last year and found it would have a devastating impact on low-income Americans.

Among the effects would be the fast-growing number of homeless, increasingly living in parks and street encampments and under freeways or with relatives as housing costs rise and shelters remain scarce. They and other poor are sustained by federal vouchers, which help pay the rent for those who have housing. Funds for vouchers have been sharply reduced by Republican-mandated budget cuts and would be cut even more by Ryan’s proposal to begin shifting them to state and local governments, many of which are hostile to the homeless.

Remember how Ryan, while deciding whether to run for speaker, made such a big deal over his worries that the job would cut into his weekend time with his children?

But he didn’t worry about the children of the poor in his budget. Funds for Medicaid, which provides care for poor families, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would be cut by 26 percent. Food stamps—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—would be reduced by $137 billion, or 18 percent, by 2024. That means more kids would be waking up without medical care or enough food, likely victims of a variety of ailments, ranging from aching teeth and malnutrition to diabetes. Poor nutrition and just plain hunger are two reasons poor children don’t do as well in school as their more affluent peers. It goes without saying that Ryan also recommended reducing the school lunch program.

All the poor—young and old—would suffer under Ryan’s budget proposal to cut Affordable Care Act expansion of Medicaid in 26 states and the District of Columbia. These states have enlarged Medicaid under the act, known as Obamacare. Supplemental Security benefits would also be cut.

Rubio is better known as a tax cutter for the rich than as a benefit cutter for the poor. He has long touted the tax proposal he introduced with Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

The Rubio plan would reduce taxes for top earners and businesses, eliminate inheritance and capital gains taxes and provide minimal help for the poor and middle class. It would also create such a huge deficit that future administrations would have no alternative but to cut government—to “starve the beast,” as the anti-taxers say. “The new Rubio-Lee plan would surpass anything George W. Bush or Mitt Romney ever proposed to do in its ambitions to relieve the richest Americans of their tax burdens,” Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine.

It’s a mean combination: Ryan lays waste to the poor, while Rubio gives a helping hand to the very rich, who are financing him and other Republican presidential candidates.

Then there is both men’s opposition to abortion. Ryan is against it, except to save the life of the mother. “We don’t want a country where abortion is simply outlawed. We want a country where it isn’t even considered,” The Associated Press reported him telling ananti-abortion women’s group.

Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” as reported by Reuters, that “I personally and deeply believe that all human life is worthy of the protection of our laws. I do. And I believe that, irrespective of the conditions by which that life was conceived, or anything else. …” It sounds as though he is against any exception, but when someone tries to pin him down, he gives incomprehensible answers that won’t antagonize anti-abortion fanatics while also trying to give the impression of reasonableness.

In the weeks ahead, this conservative duo will be portrayed in the political press as the reasonable, thoughtful new face of the Republican Party. That will, as they say in the news business, become the storyline.

It’s a great story for a superficial journalist: Two comparatively young men—sincere, nice-looking, family-oriented, from modest upbringings—saving a political party gone awry. Taxes and budgets are complicated and dreary. Abortion is even more complex, with many religious, ethical, medical and human facets to explore.

It’s easier for the press to go for Internet clicks with the heartwarming story and let Ryan and Rubio get away with telling it.

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