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Tuesday, 18 September 2012 06:51

Paul Ryan's Little-Noticed Marathon

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The closer you look at Paul Ryan’s service on the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, the closer you get to another sub-three hour marathon.

Ryan was widely called out for voting against Simpson-Bowles as a commission member and then, in his v-p acceptance speech, pointing the finger at Obama for the commission’s failure. Just as deceptive, maybe even more so, is the reason he’s consistently given for voting “no” in the first place.

He couldn’t support Simpson-Bowles, he claims, because it ignored the elephant in the room, the continuing rise in Medicare costs. “You cannot fix this problem without taking on health care,” Ryan said. The plan “doesn’t even take a step in the right direction. It takes many steps in the wrong direction from my perspective.”

Indeed. By then Ryan had introduced his own plan for overhauling Medicare, and it had no resemblance to the Obamacare reforms that were part and parcel of the Simpson-Bowles report. You could disagree with Ryan’s “no,” but the reason he always gave was both defensible and consistent. Another member of the Simpson-Bowles commission, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), voted “yes” but would later defend Ryan’s “no”; according to Coburn, it totally jibed with Ryan’s position at commission meetings.

It turns out, though, that Ryan clearly had at least one other big reason for opposing Simpson-Bowles. As a vice-presidential candidate, Ryan has proposed the elimination of capital gains taxes. By contrast, the Simpson-Bowles report called for equal taxes on capital gains, dividends and wages; it was central to the commission’s plans for tax reform, central to broadening the tax base, central to the commission’s proposed lowering of marginal rates.

Did Paul Ryan oppose Simpson-Bowles, as he’s always publicly said, because it didn’t do enough to restrain Medicare costs? Or did he also in fact oppose it, as he’s never publicly said, because it would cut into a major source of income for the well-off, especially the richest of the rich? Could it be that his position on capital gains was his real reason for opposing Simpson-Bowles all along?

Michael Lofgren at Huffington Post pointed out the tax-deficit hypocrisy of Ryan's opposition to the Simpson-Bowles report. Strangely (to me at least), he gave Ryan a pass by not also pointing out that his public reason for voting against it might have been little more than eyewash.

Was it? It's an interesting question, and I'd love to hear Ryan's answer. If he's ever asked, you can be sure of one thing: he'll be slick.