Paul Ryan Was a Con Artist on Fiscal Responsibility

Paul Krugman’s latest column, about Paul Ryan’s retirement from Congress, accurately tags him as essentially a con artist. But the con he engaged in is the same one that the Republican party as a whole has used for the last 40 years, using tax cuts to raise the deficit to justify cuts to social programs.

Some commentators seem surprised at the way men who talked nonstop about fiscal probity under Barack Obama cheerfully supported tax cuts that will explode the deficit under Trump. They also seem shocked at the apparent indifference of Ryan and his colleagues to Trump’s corruption and contempt for the rule of law. What happened to their principles?

The answer, of course, is that the principles they claimed to have never had anything to do with their actual goals. In particular, Republicans haven’t abandoned their concerns about budget deficits, because they never cared about deficits; they only faked concern as an excuse to cut social programs.

And if you ask why Ryan never took a stand against Trumpian corruption, why he never showed any concern about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, what ever made you think he would take such a stand? Again, if you look at Ryan’s actions, not the character he played to gullible audiences, he has never shown himself willing to sacrifice anything he wants — not one dime — on behalf of his professed principles. Why on earth would you expect him to stick his neck out to defend the rule of law?

The claim of being the party of fiscal responsibility has always been a con. Just look at the last few decades when the Republicans were in charge and when the Democrats were and you’ll see that the deficit grew far bigger and much faster under Republicans than under Democrats. Even the conservative Forbes magazine calls the Republican party “a federal budget deficit and national debt fraud.” They rant and rave about fiscal responsibility when Democrats are in power, then conveniently forget about all of that when they control the purse strings.

The only thing they really care about is reducing taxes on their rich benefactors. That’s what they are put in office to do, to boost corporate profits (the Democrats are good at this too, but nowhere near what the Republicans manage to do). They do this by cutting taxes on the forms of income most rich people have (like capital gains and dividends, taxed at less than half the rate wages and salaries are) and eliminating or watering down regulations that require them to protect the environment, worker safety and other things that benefit everyone but them.

The crown jewel in their agenda is making deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare, something they have so far been unable to do because the elderly are wealthier and more politically engaged than almost any other voting demographic. But that is ultimately the goal and they pursue it relentlessly. And they use their tax cut-induced deficits to justify the need for those deep cuts (but never cuts to defense spending, unsurprisingly).

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