Paul Ryan Budget: How It Sunk His Popularity


When he tried to shrink federal spending in his new budget last week, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) probably didn't expect his poll numbers to shrink too. But that's exactly what's happened: a new Rasmussen poll has his favorability ratings among likely voters at just 35%. That's a 15% drop from his 50% approval rating just after Romney picked him to be his vice presidential running mate. Today, 54% of Americans disapprove of Ryan. It seems that Ryan's budget is not going over well. That's got to burn more than pumping that iron, Congressman.

This chart succinctly shows what Ryan's budget changes. Overall, Ryan's budget cuts federal spending by $4.6 trillion. Medicare survives relatively unscathed, with only a roughly 5% cut by 2023, but at that time Ryan wants to turn the program into a premium support plan. This means the government guarantees a fixed payment instead of a fixed set of benefits.

Medicaid takes a much bigger cut in this Ryan budget: spending is almost 50% lower between now and 2023. Ryan calls for the privatization of Medicaid and for the repeal of parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This would lead to about 64 million people losing health care.

This chart illustrates the difference between the Senate Democrats' budget and the House Republicans'. While the Republican plan's savings come exclusively from spending cuts, the Democrats' plan is more moderate and evenly balanced: $975 billion in tax increases almost covers $875 billion in overall spending cuts.

While Ryan's budget does set a higher target for tax revenue compared to his previous budgets, he has watered down the specifics of his tax reform plan. He says this is because specifics are the job of the House Ways and Means Committee, but that doesn't cut it, since Medicare and Medicaid are also under the control of the committee, but he has released specific plans for reforming those programs. 

Just as in the election, the numbers simply don't work. Ryan promises to lower taxes on the wealthy by about a third without increasing the deficit. In the words of the Center for American Progress, "There are only two possible outcomes with the Ryan plan: a tax hike on the middle class or a massive increase in the debt... either way, the American people were very clear that this was not the direction in which they wanted to go."

Ryan also offers no specifics on cutting Social Security spending, and says that he will get $1 trillion in cuts from "other mandatory spending," covering everything from veteran benefits to food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Ryan's popularity during the campaign, as seen in this chart, is instructive in evaluating his recent performance. By the end of the campaign, he had fallen from his post-announcement peak. During the last few weeks, he's been on a downward trajectory.

Despite years of economic growth, the unemployment rate is still 7.7%. Ryan's plan includes no job-creation proposals even though it slashes investment in education, science and infrastructure. Given that the economy, and specifically unemployment, was a top concern for most Americans during the election, giving more attention to that issue may have made the budget more palatable.

Paul Ryan's name appeared on every ballot in the 2012 election. Voters rejected Romney-Ryan, in large part because of the lack of specificity and old ideas in Ryan's budget. 

In the end, it's also worth looking further back in history. Despite his free market rhetoric, Ryan has never been a true fiscal hawk. He voted for the Bush tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which did not have any offsets. He opposes The Affordable Care Act even though it does cover its costs.

Many in the GOP have said that their election losses prompted soul-searching. While we have seen movement on immigration, on his signature issue, the deficit, Ryan's new budget falls short again. The GOP may proclaim itself to be the party of fiscal conservatism, but history has shown otherwise. (Not that the Democrats have been any better.)

The American people used to like Paul Ryan. Then we found out a little more about his plan, or lack thereof, and we didn't like him so much. The old saying goes, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Last week Ryan introduced a budget that's basically the same as his old budget, which proved unpopular. It should have been no surprise that his popularity would dip again.