13 August 2012

Two Facts About Paul Ryan

So the Representative for Wisconsin's first district, Paul Ryan, has been tapped as Romney's vice-presidential nominee.  Let me get the obligatory stuff out of the way first, much of which you'll have already heard: Ryan is a serious policy wonk and the ideological head of the Republican Party, and is most known for his attempts to privatize Social Security during the Bush administration as well as his alternative and very conservative budget plans during the Obama administration.  These plans are considered most notable for the fact that they eliminate Medicare, replacing it with a voucher system.

Ryan has been frequently called "brave" for his efforts to reform entitlements.  But this isn't apt, because his plan exempts anyone currently on Medicare, as well as the next ten years of retirees.  Ryan's plan would cripple the social safety net for the young, and he wanted to get it passed by appeasing the old.  That's not brave.  That's generational theft.

But you'll hear all about that, I think.  So here are two things you might not have heard about.

Paul Ryan has been in Congress since he was 28, but has only ever passed two bills: he renamed a post office, and added a new tax loophole for archers.
Ryan, who Mitt Romney has tapped as his running mate, passed a bill into law in July 2000 that renames a post office in his district. Thanks to Ryan, the post office on 1818 Milton Ave. in Janesville, Wis., is now known as "Les Aspin Post Office Building."

The other time Ryan saw one of his bills become law was in December 2008, with legislation to change the way arrows (as in bows and arrows) are hit with an excise tax. Specifically, his bill amended the Internal Revenue Code to impose a 39-cent tax per arrow shaft, instead of a 12.4 percent tax on the sales price. The bill also "includes points suitable for use with arrows in the 11 percent excise tax on arrow parts and accessories."
This comes from the Huffington Post, but it's easily verifiable because the Congressional Record is publicly available.  It's also a meaningful factoid: Ryan is not a legislator, he's an obfuscator.  Getting consensus to pass bills that help the country is hard, and Ryan has preferred to obstruct rather than compromise.

In the current diseased era of Congress, where every attempt to do something useful is interrupted with the hacking cough of a filibuster, Paul Ryan is Typhoid Mary.

Under the Romney-Ryan budget proposal, Mitt Romney would have paid 0.82% in federal taxes.

Under Ryan's budget proposals, which are now Romney's budget proposals, all tax on capital gains, interest, and dividends is reduced to 0%, the Alternative Minimum Tax would be removed, and the super-rich see their taxes slashed from 35% to 25%.  Like most of the super-wealthy, most of Romney's income comes from his investments and not his job, so he would pay no taxes on anything but his speaking fees.  The Atlantic has the numbers:
Romney did earn $593,996 in author and speaking fees in 2010 that would still be taxed under the Ryan plan. Just not much. Ryan would cut the top marginal tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax -- saving Romney another $292,389 or so on his 2010 tax bill. Now, Romney would still owe self-employment taxes on his author and speaking fees, but that only amounts to $29,151. Add it all up, and Romney would have paid $177,650 out of a taxable income of $21,661,344, for a cool effective rate of 0.82 percent.
 Romney is now unavoidably running on this budget and on these cuts.  Just remember that number: 0.82 percent.


  1. 1. If some legislator works primarily by influencing other people, improving their ideas, working to get their legislation passed, and doesn't himself author bills, that doesn't mean he isn't doing anything. Ryan's over and over proposed model budgets; he's been the chairman of the Budget Committee; he's (by all accounts) been very influential over the entire ongoing tax-and-budget debate. This silly "only passed two bills" is a ridiculous way to measure a Congressman's work.

    2. If we're going to compare people's tax rates, we ought to include all the taxes they pay, and not just personal income tax.

    Suppose you own a company (AnarchyCo) that makes $200,000 for the year. You pay around $70,000 in corporate income tax, leaving $130,000 in profits, which you take as personal income in the form of dividends on your stock. So The Atlantic's theory is that if you didn't get taxed again on the $130,000, you wouldn't have paid any taxes at all?

    Ryan's proposal is to tax corporate income only once, when the company earns it, instead of twice, as we now do.

    You could argue that it would make better sense to tax the money once at the personal end (by taxing dividends at the same rate as other income), and not to tax corporations directly at all. Something tells me, though, that people would get all rhetorically indignant about that idea too.

  2. 1. The paucity of Ryan's substantive achievement is not just a factoid, but indicative of a larger problem: he does not work with others, enacting the necessary compromise to pass his ideas into law. You're right that he has been influential, but it is to this negative purpose. For example, he voted against the Simpson-Bowles proposal when he was on the deficit committee, because it would have required compromise, and instead proposed once again his own radical "budget."

    And the budgets which are his hallmark are not even really budgets, if you look: budgets typically have more numbers. The Ryan budgets slashes taxes and assert they will pay for this by "closing loopholes," but that's budgetary fairy dust - unless you're willing to specify, which he is not. Why would he, after all? 50% of the laws he's proposed have been tax loopholes!

    2. When a business earns money, it pays taxes. When an employee earns money, it pays taxes. So when the company for which I work earns a sum, it pays taxes, and then I pay taxes on the income which I receive from them. This isn't double taxation, though - it's just semantic framing. In the same way, it's not double taxation when a corporation is taxed when it makes money, and then the income someone earns from their ownership or salary in that corporation is taxed.

    But EVEN if that were the case, Romney would STILL only pay 0.82 percent, because he takes advantage of a massive loophole and has "pass-through" investments rather than an interest in a standard corporation: http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/just-passing-through/


  3. I respect Ryan a lot for even being willing to talk about entitlement reform. Isn't that sad, when that is how low the bar is for a politician's relationship with reality? And of course he isn't talking about cutting entitlements for current beneficiaries -- that would be criminally stupid. Old people vote, so I am incredulous that you suggest this as a viable strategy.

    My problem with Ryan is that the words coming out of his mouth now about fiscal responsibility have no relationship with his record in the House. You talk about his unwillingness to compromise, but he is a "yes" vote for some of the biggest bipartisan turds of the Bush years: Medicaire part D, NCLB, the Patriot Act, two wars, TARP, the auto bailouts, etc.. Bipartisanship is VASTLY overrated.

    Also, I would like to say how funny it is that you lambast Ryan for being unwilling to compromise... and also for compromising by not cutting benefits for current retirees. :)

    1. I guess Ryan deserves some small merit for being willing to address the topic, but not too much because he neither compromises to achieve a real result, nor answers the tough questions like which loopholes he'd eliminate, nor manages to get anything passed.

      Yes, it is difficult to even talk about the problem, and old people certainly do vote. Obamacare, which actually went a long way to addressing the ongoing issues (despite its imperfection), has gotten Obama attacked a LOT, for example.

      I'm not sure about your examples, although they certainly show that being a Republican is a lot more important to him than any ideology he might happen to hold - not reassuring. He does certainly deserve scorn for abandoning his professed beliefs for those votes, although I think that some of them are good policy from my standpoint.

      Why do you think not cutting benefits for retirees represents compromise? Ryan has clearly and consistently championed the rights of the baby boomers to engage in the most outrageous theft from the young - continuing to do so isn't a compromise. I suppose you could view it as the Democrats saying, "We want to strengthen Medicare" and the Republicans saying, "We want to turn the whole thing into a voucher system," but that's not the case. The GOP has never advocated cutting benefits for retirees, have they? Instead, they've just pushed various forms of Fuck You We Got Ours: privatize Social Security for the young (not the old, they have expectations!), voucher system for Medicare for the young (not the old, it wouldn't be fair!), slash Medicaid (it's okay old people have Medicare), and so on.

    2. Sure, I accept that there is disagreement on the actual merit of various Bush initiatives. What I am trying to say is that, like virtually all Republicans of the past decade, Ryan talks a good game about fiscal responsibility riiiiight up until he actually assumes office. Then it is spending bonanza.

      Re: entitlements, I feel like you are arguing in circles. The reason Republicans never suggest cutting benefits for current retirees is because that would be political suicide. So they compromise by saying, all right, no one who currently receives benefits will have them cut, but Congress will reform the system for future generations, who have more time to plan. It is clearly a compromise based on what is currently politically possible. Does that make sense?

      I guess that proposed series of reforms could be considered generational theft, because baby boomers are exempted, but what other option is there? There is no way Congress would be able to repeatedly raise taxes on the middle class to keep up with the exponential growth of these programs. The problem isn't a lack of revenue.

      Also: WTF? Why do I feel compelled to defend these assholes? I don't even LIKE Ryan; I am just sick of the pile-on whenever someone suggests that maybe we shouldn't let entitlement spending swallow the entire federal budget.

    3. You are very right about the fair-weather fiscal conservatives.

      And I see what you are saying about entitlement compromise. I suppose you're right, that is compromise of a sort - between what they might view as ideal and what is politically feasible. But of course that's not the kind of compromise of which I was speaking; I was more focused on compromising with the other party. So in that sense, you're right: Ryan is willing to concede political reality. For example, that's why he had to choose between privatizing Social Security and eliminating Medicare in this last budget. Boehner advised him both wouldn't fly.

      Well, Social Security is not broken. It would require very little to fix it, since its outlay is only slightly beyond its funds. Even as it is, it can pay out full benefits for many years, and then 80% benefits for many more past that (sorry no numbers off the top of my head), without reform.

      Medicare/Medicaid do require solutions. I think Obamacare is a marginal improvement, but universal healthcare would be much more efficient. It would definitely be a change.

      The reason why these proposed changes are generational theft is that they exempt the baby boomers - that's pretty much it. Ryan makes the argument that vouchers are superior to the current system, but no one even pretends to really believe that. If they did, then Ryan and everyone else would be clamoring to give vouchers to everyone. They bluster with the idea that seniors have "planned around the current system," but that's obviously crap. If you're really worried about that, then you just graduate in your voucher system by degrees, rather than simply exempting them.

      Clearly, it doesn't work well to grant universal care only to a specific cohort, unless that cohort is sufficiently small to be subsidized by the rest of the nation. The military and the extremely poor are sufficiently small (by most measures), but seniors now and in the future constitute a segment that is just way too large. Voucherizing, pegged roughly to inflation, is certainly a solution - it's just a terrible one. But I'd respect it, if it weren't for the fact that they want to slurp up resources and pile on endlessly more debt so that THEY get universal care, but that the young do not. That's downright immoral. They're financing their healthcare by piling on debt that the young will be obligated to pay and by cutting discretionary spending that builds the future and keeps America whole. Our generation is being mugged.

      It is weird you defend Ryan. I do like that he addressed entitlements, sort of, even if it's in a monstrous way. But why not vote for Obama, who has actually taken steps to keep the system solvent? Obamacare keeps the system solvent until 2020, while insuring millions more, rather than the otherwise looming date of 2016. Vote for him and show your support for more changes and to defend the first constructive contribution to entitlement reform since Clinton, rather than the party that piled on prescription drug coverage onto the debt while slashing taxes for the rich?

    4. I agree that right now a couple different groups have universal care based on military service, income, or age -- and that this last is growing all out of proportion to the rest of the population's ability to pay. We are financing this healthcare spending through increasing debt which our and future generations will have to repay.

      I am not sure how you solve this, or make it more efficient, by implementing universal healthcare or further socializing the cost. Isn't the rest of the population forced to pay for current Medicare beneficiaries under that system, as well? The way countries with UHC become more "efficient" is by denying or delaying treatment: not as some inherent benefit of essentially forcing everyone into the same insurance pool.

      To make the insurance market more efficient, you can make a couple very specific reforms: allow the purchase of insurance across state lines, allow the sale of catastrophic coverage with few mandates, and phase out the tax break for employer-based insurance (as we discussed earlier).

      It makes no sense to me that the health insurance market can be regulated as interstate commerce... when the actual interstate purchase of commerce is prohibited! That is some Alice-in-Wonderland shit. Opening up insurers to sell across state lines would enable more robust competition: pitting ruthless insurers against one another, instead of against a regulatory scheme which they will inevitably capture. You wouldn't see the phenomenon of a single insurer monopolizing business in one state, because they would have to compete on efficiency and customer service with a bunch of other companies.


      I have a slow clap for Obama for extending the life of the program by exactly as long as his term. This was supposed to be some sort of transformative presidency?

      I will vote for Obama under one condition: he dumps Biden for Hillary as VP. I am sorry, but while many people laugh at Biden's antics, they actually make me kind of sad, because I think he has legit brain damage. And in any case I know Hillary would push Obama aside and take over like a boss. :)

    5. Is there no state that allows the kind of things you suggest? Maybe it's all superseded by federal regulation.

      As for interstate purchases, ruthless insurers are already pitted against each other within each state, right? I don't know why interstate purchases aren't allowed, but I assume it's out of a concern for a potential race-to-the-bottom: state guidelines and differences for insurers will either plummet to the lowest point as one state slashes regs more than the others, or else simply becoming meaningless as the entire oversight process is federalized. I'm not an expert, unfortunately, but wouldn't that have made things like Green Mountain Care or Romneycare difficult to implement effectively? I don't know, though. What's the rationale for those who oppose interstate insurance sales?

      It doesn't make any sense to me to yearn for someone willing to address entitlement reform, and then vote out the person who has actually done it. Why give credit to Ryan for his budget-without-numbers, but vote out Obama for an actual accomplishment? You've mentioned how difficult it is to do entitlement reform, and surely you've seen the absurd barrage of GOP attacks for it. A vote for Romney-Ryan just helps send the message: "Do nothing about entitlements." For all that 2020 doesn't seem like an impressive date, it's a lot better than vowing to return it to 2016, as Romney has said he would with a repeal of Obamacare, right?

      I like Biden and think he's pretty awesome for saying whatever the hell comes to mind, even if it's frequently awkward or weird in tone. Plus: Hillary 2016.

  4. Also: the Bipartisan Turds would be a great band name. Just sayin'