Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) unleashed a stinging attack on House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan in an interview with TPM, describing him as an ideologically driven extremist who doesn’t deserve his reputation within the political establishment as a genuine fiscal hawk.
Labeling the House-passed GOP budget a “great scam,” Frank cited its military spending hikes from current law levels as evidence that Ryan’s primary goal isn’t deficit reduction. He also cited Ryan’s refusal to specify which tax loopholes he’ll close as evidence of trickery.
“It’s not deficit reduction when you increase military spending so that you can make up for that by cutting Medicare and Medicaid. That’s not budget reduction. That’s ideology. That’s the right wing,” Frank told TPM. “The other great scam for Ryan is to say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to help the rich people … I’m going to lower their rates and get rid of loopholes,’ although he doesn’t mention a single loophole that he’ll get rid of.”
The Massachusetts congressman, who is retiring at the end of this term, is an outspoken advocate for reducing deficits by cutting military spending. His rationale is arithmetic: Paying off the debt while holding revenues flat and leaving the military untouched will devastate programs that help working-class Americans. America can afford military cuts, Frank argues, because now that the Cold War is over, “There is no force out there in the world capable of taking away our freedoms.”
A spokesman for Ryan declined to comment.
Frank said the perception of Ryan as a venerable figure has been created by members of the political “commentariat” who “want to say we’re somewhat ‘independent’ of all this [polarization]” in order to appear nonpartisan.
“I agree with [Paul] Krugman’s analysis. There is this instinct to be in the middle. People don’t like to think of themselves as some way partisan. There are people who take comfort from the fact that, ‘Oh, I’ve got people on both sides who disagree with me.’ I think you see this in Tom Friedman. You see this in some others,” he said, also referencing a recent article on Ryan by James Stewart of the New York Times.
“Here’s the deal,” Frank told TPM of some political pundits. “They don’t want to consider themselves to be siding with the Democrats. It’s important for their self-image that they be seen as centrist. The problem is the Republican Party has given them fewer and fewer things that they can identify with, because they’ve moved so far to the right. … So they have to find something they can support on the Republican side to maintain this self-image that they’re somehow independent of the parties. And so they pick up the Ryan budget.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.