I explained earlier today the hollowness of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s attempt to deny that his budget cuts low-income programs deeply. Ryan’s defense was that since total federal spending grows under his budget, how can we say it contains cuts, rather than merely slowing the rate of growth? We disposed of this in my earlier post, but I want to dig deeper here to expose a budget trick Chairman Ryan is playing.
Sure, total federal spending grows under his budget in nominal dollars. But that’s driven in large part by increases in Social Security and Medicare — whose costs rise with inflation and the aging of the population, among other factors — and interest payments on the debt. Ryan cites trends for overall federal spending to mask the fact that his budget contains hefty cuts — even in nominal (non-inflation-adjusted) dollars — in key low-income programs like Medicaid and SNAP (formerly food stamps).
In his attempt to deflect our finding that 69 percent of his budget cuts come from programs targeted on Americans of limited means, Ryan says that Medicaid would receive over $3 trillion during the coming decade under his budget and that its costs would grow in all years after 2016. Here’s what his too-clever-by-half response conceals:
A similar pattern marks the Ryan plan for the part of the budget that includes SNAP, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for poor people who are elderly or have serious disabilities, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other such programs. In this part of the budget, as well, nominal spending wouldn’t return to its 2014 level until 2022.
Chairman Ryan has every right to propose severe cuts in any program he chooses. But he should be straightforward about what he is proposing.