Paul Ryan and Patty Murray Budgets Are Both Pipedreams


This week, Congress extends what seems to be an endless discussion of our fiscal future. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are not making the fight any less grueling. The two proposed dueling visions of America which cling to their ideology ... at the expense of passing a sensible budget.

After four years, Senate Democrats finally proposed a budget. But rather than giving Republicans something to work with, they proposed the same tax-and-spend policies Republicans have opposed since the president took office. Republicans are not doing any better. Paul Ryan’s plan proposed steep cuts to entitlements and gave tax cuts to corporations. The budgets Congress has to deal with this week are not serious. They resemble campaign platforms more than they do budgets.

The selling point of Paul Ryan’s plan for 2014 is that it balances the budget in 10 years. Any sane person would ask how this is possible given that our deficit is hovering around $1 trillion. The answer is that it is not possible. Last week, Paul Ryan told Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, that his budget would assume the repeal of the president’s signature health law, to which Wallace replied, “That’s not gonna happen.” In response to Wallace, Ryan said, “Well we believe it should. That’s the point. This is what budgeting is all about. It’s about making tough choices to solve our country’s problems.”

But repealing Obamacare is not a tough choice, it is an implausible choice. Basically, Ryan needs trillions of dollars in new spending to simply not be spent. That is trillions of dollars in a bill that Ryan’s own speaker of the House said was the “law of the land.” Democrats fought tirelessly for months against grassroots activists, Republicans, and their own party to get Obamacare passed, but Paul Ryan thinks they will give in to repeal only three years after their landmark struggle.

Part of working together is recognizing the sacrifices each party has made, while respecting the stakes the other faces when they compromise their values. Democrats have to recognize that they already humiliated House Republicans with tax hikes during the fiscal cliff negotiations, and Republicans have to recognize the sheer improbability of repealing Obamacare. Republicans’ request for tax cuts and Ryan’s failed election proposal for Medicare reform is not a budget; it is a political wish list.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats propose reaching the highest spending level per year in world history. Democrats want to spend $5.7 trillion in 2023 alone. The Senate budget proposes $46.4 trillion in spending over the next 10 years and plans to increase taxes by $975 billion. Other than defense, there are zero net spending cuts in the Democrats' budget. In fact, Murray’s plan increases spending by $2.1 trillion per year, while allocating $100 billion for infrastructure projects, a form of economic stimulus that Republicans have long opposed.

If you still think Republicans are taking the more ridiculous route by repealing Obamacare, Democrats are fighting back with their own conception of reality. The Senate budget assumes that no future cuts from sequestration will be implemented.

Passing a budget is literally setting a plan for the future. But these futures are completely different. One plan slashes the federal budget to reach balance within 10 years while the other spends and taxes with no end in sight. If there were ever a time to compromise, it is now. The point is not the parties should abandon their policies. To the contrary, when a supermajority comes their way, they should leverage it. The point is that they should not push their agendas through the very document that is meant for compromise.

So how do any of them expect to balance the budget?

They don’t. Incidentally, not passing a budget at all seems to be the easiest way to govern. You don't have to cut anything or make voters unhappy. And in the case of President Obama, you can just propose more spending and call the other party “obstructionists” when they oppose it. President Obama’s American Jobs Act doled out stimulus money and special protections for unions. When his own party could not get it passed in the Senate, he lambasted Republicans for refusing to compromise.

Democrats and Republicans seem to be taking a page from the president’s book. Proposing wildly unrealistic budgets forces the other party to compromise out of fear that they will be perceived as not cooperating. But what if no one is cooperating and both sides use this strategy? Will we get anything done? I hate to be the guy that says, “A pox on both their houses.” But in this case I think it is warranted.