Albert Einstein was a pretty smart guy; he once said "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."
With that as background, one must wonder just what Paul Ryan was thinking about when he wrote his proposed fiscal 2014 federal budget. Why would he release a budget that failed before and which will be dead on arrival for all but the most partisan Republicans?
On last week's Fox News Sunday, Ryan said his plan to balance the budget depends on doing away with the Affordable Care Act. Even if the Democratic Senate were to send a budget that repeals Obamacare to the president, who is going to sign it into law? President Obama? Chris Wallace said of this proposal, "that's not going to happen." Ryan is alleged to be a pretty smart guy, too, so he must know his plan has absolutely no chance at all of being enacted in its present form.
There are many other areas where the Ryan plan is out of step both with public opinion and hard financial reality. For instance, the plan calls for increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67. The 2012 election demonstrated just how unpopular this idea was.
A recent Washington Post article analyzed the proposal's costs. It shows that while annual Medicare costs would decrease by close to $6 billion, those savings would be more than obliterated by extra expenses elsewhere. Some of that increase is in costs to Medicaid. All that does is pass expenses down to already stressed-out state budgets. State Medicare exchanges would also see their costs go up. In other words, Ryan's plan means you and I wind up with larger state income taxes. Employers still providing medical insurance to their employees would face increased costs, too, since they'd pay insurance premiums for two extra years. So on health coverage, Ryan's budget hurts everyone to the tune of $11.4 billion annually.
But Medicare's costs have grown less than private health insurance plans. Reducing Medicare enrollments is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Pretty nearly every independent analysis has shown that voucherizing Medicare will drive coverage costs up for seniors, and once again, those cost increases will exceed reductions in programmatic costs.
The Ryan budget addresses higher education costs by freezing the size of Pell grants. The grant is needs-based, meaning that only low- and middle-income students may receive them. In 2011 they helped fund about 27 percent of all college undergraduates. This proposal might save about $1.1 billion per year, slightly more than one fifth of one percent of his plan's defense budget, which is "fully funded within the limits imposed by sequestration," according to the conservative Heritage Foundation. Ryan's budget puts all the pain on Medicare, Medicaid, and non-defense discretionary spending such as food stamps and women's health-care funding.
Why would Ryan intentionally try repeating the same things that failed miserably in 2012? It's inconceivable that he doesn't know his proposal is going absolutely nowhere. The answer is what's happening this very moment in Washington, the Conservative Political Action Committee annual convention. Ryan is posturing himself to compete against Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal for the 2016 presidential nomination. Arguably, CPAC is the Republicans' most visible and active grass roots component, home of the tea party and the Republicans' rightmost wing.
Noticeably absent from this convention is the party's most popular office-holder, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, just because he was complimentary to the Obama administration for its handling of the Hurricane Sandy disaster. If CPAC is so anti-Obama as to shun anyone who even shakes hands with him, then it's in Ryan's interest to position himself as far to the right as he can. While Ryan might not be insane, for CPAC to force the Republican Party to repeat its failed 2012 strategy most surely is.