Critics on the right will say that this new budget is not the best we can do, and they are correct: It is by all appearance far beyond the best we can do at the moment. The American public would be lucky to see the enactment of this budget, which would reduce the deficit down to digestible levels quite quickly. But they have no apparent appetite for it. Representative Ryan performs his thankless task admirably, but he is peddling broccoli outside of Baskin-Robbins. And it’s pretty expensive broccoli: Taxes are to stay approximately where they are. The revenue-neutral (in theory) tax reform Republicans propose would be a welcome development, but the real game-changer would be substantially reducing the federal footprint on the economy.
Not that Republicans are above adding a spoonful of sugar to the fiscal medicine. In a telephone conversation with reporters yesterday, Representative Ryan explained that this budget differs from earlier iterations in that it more aggressively increases spending in one area: the military. “National defense is our first priority,” he said, and he is worried about expected reductions in the naval fleet and the army’s headcount. And he is right: National defense should be the federal government’s central concern when it comes to allocating scarce resources. But it does not follow that every dollar spent on the military is a dollar well spent or that the massive military appropriations in the current baseline are inadequate.