I get nervous when I start feeling too certain about something, and I feel pretty certain that Paul Ryan's budget is a massive devolution of government responsibility masquerading as fiscal prudence. So I called Alan Viard, a tax and entitlement scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, to ask what was fair and not fair to criticize in the Ryan Roadmap. It was a wide-ranging conversation, but here's an edited selection:
THOMPSON: When I look at the Ryan plan for the next ten years, I don't worry about Medicare, where reforms don't kick in until 2023 or so. I worry about basically everything else. The tax changes are regressive, the Medicaid cuts are fierce, and balancing the budget seems to fall on non-defense, non-Social Security spending that is overwhelmingly designed to protect the sick, the old, and the poor. Am I wrong?
VIARD: No, I actually think that's right. We know Medicaid gets cut right away. Or at least, its rate of growth is cut. That's obviously a program that is targeted at low-income people. But I think the criticisms of Ryan [mix up the versions], because there have been [at least] three iterations of Ryan's Roadmap.
In the press coverage, the Democrats are, in some of their comments, going back to the old plans, especially on the tax side. [Ed: I'm guilty of this.] Ryan used to have no capital gains tax, but also a value-added tax, and Social Security reforms. Those things are all gone in the version that the House GOP voted for this year. In that latest plan, Social Security is not actually touched. On the tax side, rates go down to 10 and 25 percent, but there is still a capital gains tax.