Does it matter that the Ryan budget doesn’t balance?
posted at 3:40 pm on March 29, 2012 by Tina Korbe
As the House passes Paul Ryan’s latest budget, a minor controversy brews outside Congress about whether it matters that, according to the CBO, it doesn’t balance.
The controversy is occurring on the conservative side of the aisle — but it’s easy for liberals to exploit. Some lefties are already suggesting Ryan’s budget is proof positive that we can’t balance the budget without raising taxes, for example, and/or reviving the argument that, if deficit reduction really matters and Republicans refuse to raise taxes, then all spending cuts — including cuts to defense, which the Ryan budget reverses — should be on the table.
If we don’t want to become mired again in a debate about whether we should raise taxes, then now is the time for conservatives to rally around Ryan. For balanced budget diehards, the purest reason to support his budget is that Ryan says the budget will definitely balance by 2040 and could could balance within 10. Even if other experts are right that the U.S. might never have a balanced budget again, though, supporting Ryan’s budget is still the best way to avoid Obama’s tax trap, as The Wall Street Journal explained in a recent editorial:
The GOP critics are wrong on the economics and politics. Mr. Ryan’s plan may not balance the budget within 10 years, but that’s the wrong policy guidepost. Mr. Obama can easily balance the budget faster—by raising taxes.
Mr. Ryan wants to avoid a tax increase and reform the tax code because he realizes that the budget will never balance over the long term without economic growth faster than today’s 2% a year. By stressing budget balance over growth, Mr. Chocola and the tea-party critics are falling into Mr. Obama’s deficit and tax trap. …
They are also playing by the Beltway’s big-government budget rules. The critics on the right are judging Mr. Ryan’s budget according to Congressional Budget Office estimates that assume little or no economic benefit from better policy. Mr. Ryan’s official budget proposal follows CBO scoring, but he is also trying to break out of that straitjacket.
Voters have every reason to be skeptical of Republican promises, but Mr. Ryan’s budget is hardly a status quo document. It’s light years better than the Tom DeLay budgets of the 2000s.
Mr. Ryan is thinking ahead of his critics by focusing on the two most important priorities: growth and reform. Without both, limited government will be nothing more than a tea party slogan and a balanced budget will be nothing more than a tax-increase trap.
Similarly, shrinking from supporting the portion of Ryan’s bill that protects defense spending just encourages liberals to encourage spending cuts in that area. The Constitution mentions “providing for the common defense” as a major purpose of government, though. Surely, it shouldn’t be the first place we look to make cuts — and we have good reason to reevaluate the specific defense spending cap that was included in the Budget Control Act. In case you’ve forgotten, it was included to try to compel Republicans on the Super Committee to agree to tax hikes.
The Ryan budget enjoys the support of House leadership, most of the GOP faithful and leading conservative voices. While I’m always sympathetic to those who criticize policy from the rightmost possible perspective, this is definitely one of those occasions when we need to rally around the plan that exists instead of waiting for a perfect plan that nobody has presented.
Update: This post originally mistakenly suggested the CBO had corroborated Ryan’s claim that the budget would eventually balance, but CBO can’t actually project beyond 10 years. My thanks to Guy Benson for the correction.