Senate Democrats’ chief policy and messaging strategist is telling his members to hammer Mitt Romney’s running mate Rep. Paul Ryan all the way to Election Day, not just as a Medicare slayer but also as a fiscal phony.
In a memo his office provided to TPM, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls on Democrats to puncture the central Romney campaign narrative that the Republican ticket is serious about tackling the nation’s greatest fiscal challenges. The document reflects Democrats’ longstanding frustrations with the credibility Ryan has among Washington centrists as a sincere deficit hawk.
“If we can succeed in showing voters how Ryan is not really a deficit hawk at all — that he prioritizes conservative ideology over balancing the budget — the rationale for his selection is gone, and Romney’s political high-wire act will fail,” Schumer writes.
He provides several talking points to combat that narrative about Ryan:
1. He supported the Bush policies that got us into this deep fiscal hole in the first place. From the Bush tax cuts to two unfunded wars to the unpaid-for creation of Medicare Part D, Ryan’s fingerprints are all over the big-spending, Bush policies that turned Bill Clinton’s record surpluses into the record deficits inherited by Barack Obama.
2. Ryan voted against the Simpson-Bowles framework. When Paul Ryan had a chance to walk the walk on deficit reduction, he joined all the other House Republicans on the commission in voting down the report.
3. He urged Speaker Boehner to abandon the grand bargain talks with President Obama. The New York Times reported Monday on how, during the summer of 2011, Ryan appealed to Rep. Cantor to cut off negotiations between the Speaker and the White House because he didn’t feel the terms of emerging agreement adhered strictly enough to conservative principles and the deal might politically benefit President Obama.
4. Most importantly, as already mentioned, the math does not add up in Ryan’s own budget. Even taking the unrealistically rosy assumptions that Ryan stipulates in his budget (for instance, that revenue levels would be 19 percent of GDP), his plan would not balance the budget until 2040. Independent experts like the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center have challenged these assumptions. Under more realistic assumptions, Ryan’s plan could take far longer to balance the budget and cause the federal debt to rise even higher.
Moreover, Ryan’s spending cuts are totally unrealistic. Outside of Medicare and Medicaid, Ryan would slash the government—including defense—to 3.75% of GDP by 2050. Defense alone is 4.6% today. According to the CBO, the total has never below 8% since World War II and defense has never been below 3%. So Ryan would either have to make massive defense cuts that his own party would reject, or he would need to virtually eliminate the rest of government - including transportation, security, education and scientific research.
Like Romney, Ryan has been criticized for promising to recover lost revenues from his tax cuts by closing loopholes, but steadfastly refusing to identify any. The fuzzy math in the Romney-Ryan ticket’s budget promises threaten to derail the message they hope to send. Erskine Bowles, whose fiscal commission Romney cites as evidence that his plan can work, insists that it isn’t possible without raising taxes on the middle class.
Schumer implored Democrats to tie Romney to Ryan’s controversial proposals on Medicare and the federal budget. “That larger point is this: at least in terms of deficit reduction, the Ryan plan is a fraud,” he declared in the memo.
UPDATE 4:48 P.M. ET: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) spokesman Don Stewart responds to Schumer’s arguments.
“It’s curious to see such a stinging indictment of Senate Democrats and the White House since nearly every Senate Democrat voted for the current tax rates, several voted for Medicare Part D and to fund our troops in the field,” Stewart writes in an email to TPM. “And it’s a little strange to see a Dem attack on the President’s refusal to support Simpson/Bowles. And it borders on hilarity to read about budgets from Senate Democrats who haven’t even tried to pass one since before the IPad was in stores.”
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.