Posted by: Jeff | March 2, 2010

The Republicans’ Best Argument Goes Down

The most powerful and impressive moment the Republicans had at last week’s health care summit was probably Paul Ryan’s argument that the health care bill would actually significantly worsen the country’s deficit spending, and only appears to reduce deficit spending due to a series of budgetary tricks and gimmicks.

This clip has been making the rounds on the ‘net, and plenty of conservatives have been crowing about it. Even Andrew Sullivan praised it.

I wanted to write a post on this because, while I was duly impressed by Ryan’s command of the subject matter, some of his arguments didn’t make a lot of conceptual sense to me. But unfortunately, I’m just some dude with a blog. I’m not a reporter or a policy analyst and I don’t have the numbers to really dig in to Ryan’s critique. But Ezra Klein, as usual, does. And yesterday he posted a pretty thorough rebuttal of Ryan’s claims.

To sum up, then, Ryan makes some good points about the true cost of the bill and realities of the federal budget. But he purposefully omits any mention of the bill’s expected savings, disingenuously attaches the price tag of a broken Republican policy onto the health-care reform bill, and selectively stops extrapolating trends when they don’t fit his points. It’s a presentation designed to make the bill look less fiscally responsible than it really is.

It’s a long and wonky post, but I’d recommend it for anyone who cares about both health care and our long term budget situation. (As Joe and I do.) I’d say worry about our long-term deficits is the strongest and most honorable position from which to mount an attack on the Democrats’ bill, and Klein provides a solid dismantling of the Republicans’ case on that score. We remain in a situation where there is really no good reason to oppose this bill, and several good reasons to support it. Jonathan Cohn adds his two cents here.

I’d also add that the level of intellectual dishonesty in Ryan’s arguments is discouraging. His recent proposal for budget reduction was noteworthy for actually being serious, which would seem to indicate that he’s operating in good faith. (And being a serious proposal, it involved serious sacrifices, so the Republican party establishment couldn’t distance itself from Ryan’s ideas fast enough.) But while the Democrats have deployed a few gimmicks to make their bill look cheaper than it is, those gimmicks don’t change its underlying fiscal soundness. The bill raises and saves more money than it spends, end of story. Ryan uses half-truths and plays fast and loose with context to more or less lie about that fact. Combine that with his hemming and hawing over what does and doesn’t constitute tolerable forms of insurance regulation, and his apparent willingness to chuck budgetary principle when it suits his party’s needs, and we once again find ourselves with apparently no good-faith Republicans in sight.

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