In his New York Times column on Monday (8/9/10), headlined "The Flimflam Man," Paul Krugman took aim at Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who has emerged as the GOP's big thinker on budgets:
One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no: As long as someone on the right claims to have bold new proposals, he's hailed as an innovative thinker. And nobody checks his arithmetic.
Krugman explains that Ryan's plan–big tax cuts, big cuts in spending–would actually not slash the deficit at all; it would make it bigger. And his tax "cuts" would really be tax hikes for everyone but the most well-off.
Krugman slammed "self-styled centrists" who"want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense…. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future."
Now turn to today's Times, and a piece from Matt Bai. The subject is the very same Paul Ryan, whom Bai calls the "Republican star of the moment" thanks to his budget blueprint, which is termed "unusually austere."
Bai references Krugman's criticism, but then tells readers:
Let's leave aside for now the debate over the viability of the road map, which, as a practical matter, doesn't stand a chance of being enacted as is, anyway. The more pertinent question is whether Mr. Ryan is the kind of guy who just wants to make a point–or whether his road map represents the starting point in what could be a serious negotiation about entitlements and spending.
Well, why is that the pertinent question? The roadmap is presented as Ryan's ideas about what the government should do. Why would you ignore what it says and pretend that it represents a possible "starting point" for doing something different?
Because apparently Obama needs a " useful nemesis on the right," Ryan's not "blindly partisan," he's friendly with some Democrats–and, perhaps most importantly:
Mr. Ryan appears to be the rare kind of guy who actually dreams of making Social Security solvent, rather than of using the issue to bludgeon opponents or get himself on television. While his own proposal for private investment accounts might be a deal-breaker for the White House, he identifies Social Security as an area where there is "clearly room for compromise" and says of his road map generally, "I'm trying to get the discussion to an adult level."
As Tim Fernholz pointed out at Tapped (8/12/10), though, Ryan's plan would do nothing to improve Social Security's financial outlook:
This Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis notes that "because the plan would divert large sums from Social Security to private accounts, it would leave the program facing insolvency in about 30 years, just as under current law." A warning, then, to Bai: Appearances can be deceiving.
Krugman took to his Times blog to critique this Times piece, which is worth a read.