Ryan Admits He Was Wrong. It’s a Start


On March 23, 2016, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) gave a speech to a collection of House Interns. For one day, attention was drawn away from the Republican primaries. Ryan, Speaker of the House, made a speech in which he said “I was wrong.” Politicians rarely admit error, and so for one day Mr. Ryan eclipsed those members of his party who have been more widely covered in the popular press. Specifically, Mr. Ryan rejected his previously held opinion of many of our fellow citizens.

The key section of Mr. Ryan’s speech was “... If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better. We don’t insult them into agreeing with us. We try to persuade them. We test their assumptions. And while we’re at it, we test our own assumptions too. … I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.”

When the Republicans created the Makers and Takers dichotomy they included in the class of takers, the unworthy, anyone who received government benefits. These included Social Security benefits, even though beneficiaries had been paying into the system all their lives. They included the disabled. Medicaid recipients and even those receiving Medicare were Takers. The original “makers and takers” was designed to arouse resentment against anyone who received cash benefits from government – in contrast, those who benefited from carefully written tax rules were among the makers and were to be admired. While Jeb Bush and Scott Walker may have proved that money can’t buy elections, there’s no convincing evidence that it can’t buy politicians. Speaker Ryan may have discovered that people who are holding down two or three jobs to make ends meet, who don’t have an inheritance, who suffer from physical or emotional problems, are subject to discrimination, who had their jobs offshored, may need help from society and perhaps, with a change in understanding of the problem will come a better understanding of the solution.

Then Mr. Ryan spoke about Jack Kemp, his political mentor, and Representative Kemp’s advocacy of a revised tax policy, and how hard Mr. Kemp fought for what he believed was right. “He pushed it so hard that he eventually inspired our party’s nominee for president—Ronald Reagan—to adopt it as his own. And in 1981 the Kemp-Roth bill was signed into law, lowering tax rates, spurring growth, and putting millions of Americans back to work.”

Mr. Ryan then said “This is the basic concept behind the policy agenda that House Republicans are building right now. As leaders, we have an obligation to put our best ideas forward—no matter the consequences. “

It was an excellent speech, delivered to House interns and meant to be inspiring. There are two brief caveats that should be considered. For several years now, Mr. Ryan has been presenting his own version of a Federal Budget. The details change from year to year but the basic ideas remain constant. These can be summarized with just the title of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ 2010 report on Congressman Ryan’s initial attempt: “The Ryan Budget’s Radical Priorities Provides Largest Tax Cuts in History for Wealthy, Raises Middle Class Taxes, Ends Guaranteed Medicare, Privatizes Social Security, Erodes Health Care.”

The second thought is that the Kemp-Roth bill was passed as the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. Among its provisions were a drop in the top tax rate from 70% to 50% while the lowest rate and cut the estate taxe rates on corporate taxes. The Kemp-Roth Bill originally called for even steeper tax cuts, and was based on the Laffer Curve and the notion that lower tax rates will raise government income. It was a critical step towards today’s severe inequality.

Mr. Ryan has rolled out variations of the same bill every year, regardless of immediate economic considerations. In good years and bad, the answer has always been the same. You would think that if Mr. Ryan now realized that he hadn’t understood the problem, he might reconsider the answer. Whatever the state of the economy, it’s always time for a tax cut for the rich. This year Speaker Ryan has a new understanding of the problem. Perhaps in time he’ll think of a different solution.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@outlook.com.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2016


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