Skip to comments.Bruce Bartlett: The Ryan Budget Plan: More Fantasy than Reality
Posted on 03/23/2012 5:22:56 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
On Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a budget for fiscal year 2013. It proposes massive changes not merely in the path of federal spending, but the very nature of government and society. There is too much in it to analyze in one column, so I want to focus on one aspect: tax policy.
The chapter on taxes in Ryans proposal is mostly a rather banal rehash of well-known problems with the tax code: its too long, too complex, etc. It then jumps to a two-page summary of his proposed reform: reduce the top individual income tax rate and the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, have just one other tax bracket of 10 percent, repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, and shift the corporate income tax from a worldwide system to a territorial system.
There are virtually no details. For example, we have no idea what income level the new tax brackets would apply to. Consequently, it is impossible to score the Ryan plan accurately. The Tax Policy Center took a stab at it by assuming that the current 10 percent bracket would stay the same and the 15 percent bracket would be abolished, as well as all rates above the current 25 percent bracket. It estimates that this provision would reduce revenues by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years. The total revenue loss of all provisions would be $4.6 trillion.
Another key part of the Ryan plan is a broadening of the tax base to recoup some of the revenue lost from cutting tax rates. Base broadening could be accomplished by abolishing or limiting the use of tax deductions and exclusions that reduce the amount of income subject to tax. According to the Tax Policy Center, the total amount of such tax expenditures is about $1.1 trillion this year.
Ryan says nothing whatsoever about what tax expenditures he would abolish. He offers only the sugar of rate reductions without telling us what the medicine of base broadening will be. Ryan says only that he would broaden the base sufficiently so that federal revenues will be in their historical range of 18 percent to 19 percent of the gross domestic product. Revenues will be 16.3 percent of GDP this year according to the Congressional Budget Office. Ryan is therefore presupposing a tax increase of 1.7 percent to 2.7 percent of GDP.
Any tax reform plan that simply asserts it will collect a certain percentage of GDP in revenues while specifying the rate structure but not defining the tax base is fundamentally dishonest, in my opinion. The CBO was simply ordered to assume that Ryans numbers are legitimate. For the sake of argument, I will make the same assumption.
So how many tax expenditures would have to be eliminated for Ryans revenue assumption to come about? This can perhaps be seen by looking at his plan in terms of percentages of GDP. According to CBO, which is required to assume current law in its projections, federal revenues will average 20.4 percent of GDP over the next 10 years. This results primarily from allowing all tax cuts to expire on schedule. If all the tax cuts were extended indefinitely, revenues would average 17.7 percent of GDP.
According to TPC, revenues would only average 15.4 percent of GDP under Ryans plan without considering any base broadeners. Therefore, he will have to eliminate enough tax expenditures to raise revenues by between 2.6 percent and 3.6 percent of GDP. With the total amount of tax expenditures equaling 7.3 percent of GDP, according to TPC, Ryan would have to reduce them by about 50 percent.
Of course, it is impossible to know what tax expenditures Ryan plans to eliminate; we can only guess. But it is worth knowing that just the top 6 tax expenditures account for more than half of the dollar cost of all tax expenditures. These include the exclusion for health insurance and the deduction for mortgage interest. Among those not in the top 6 are the deduction for charitable contributions and the deduction for state and local taxes.
In other words, it will be impossible to achieve Ryans revenue target without pretty much wiping the slate clean of every tax preference except for a handful of the most popular ones. This may be worth doing, but will be very difficult. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 reduced tax expenditures by about 2.7 of GDP, according to the TPC. If it could be duplicated, that would only get Ryan to his absolute minimum level of revenues as a share of GDP. Getting to the upper end of his target range would require a tax reform one third larger.
In short, looking only at the tax side of Ryans plan, he is anticipating enactment of an extraordinarily ambitious tax reform on top of the most ambitious budget cutting effort ever enacted. He would sharply cut outlays for every major program except Social Security and national defense. Every governmental function one can think of would be virtually abolished except for Medicare, Social Security and defense. A key reason for the severity of these cuts, of course, is that Ryan would cut taxes at the same time he is cutting spending. To achieve balance with lower than projected revenues requires even larger cuts in spending.
I do not believe any of this will ever happen or could ever happen. I think Ryan has an undeserved reputation for seriousness in budget matters. The word fantasy would better apply. As Prof. Calvin Johnson of the University of Texas law school told me, the tax side of Ryans plan is floating in the clouds without any connection to earth or reality. And of course accomplishing what he hopes to do on the spending side is even more fanciful.
In my opinion, the Ryan budget should be seen as nothing more than a PR document for Republicans so they can say they have a plan to balance the budget, cut taxes, and cure the common cold. It may serve that narrow purpose, although many Republicans are saying that it doesnt go far enough in slashing spending. I wish I could buy some of the stuff these guys are drinking or smoking.
Anyone can make up numbers that balance the budget while slashing taxes at the same time if they have no concern whatsoever for the proper functioning of government, no concern for the hardship it would cause, and are in a position to order the CBO to accept those numbers at face value. Coming up with specific legislative changes that will actually implement such a vision, getting it enacted, and accepting the consequences is something else altogether.
It’s a campaign document, not a serious budget. Ryan should not have wasted his time and his credibility on something with zero chance of enactment.
Ugh. I hate inside the beltway asshats. Bruce Bartlett is definitely on that list.
You have to be joking. Ryan is among only a handful of people actually addressing the problems in Washington. He has tackled reform of 2 of the 3 major entitlements, and has even now gotten some of the Democrats on board with solutions in his proposals. He has almost single-handedly changed the discussion in Washington.
Of course none of his reforms get through Harry Reid and Obama, which exactly why it is important to present now...to clearly identify what they will not pass unless the Senate is Republican and the White House changes parties. In the early 90s our House minority made all kinds of reform proposals knowing they wouldn’t even get a hearing the Democratic House committees.
Bruce Bartlett is more fantasy than reality.
It proposes massive changes not merely in the path of federal spending, but the very nature of government and society.
So I imagine he's upset that Ryan will not uphold his conception of the 'social contract'.
More proof that Bartlett, once a leading supply-side light, has dementia.
Wrong. Any budget that BEGINS with $5 Trillion in cuts is serious, and deserves our attention and support. Idiots like Bartlett-—who simply lost his brain with Bush hatred-—need to be shown the “Democrats only” door.
Bruce [Bartlett] is the author of seven books including The New York Times bestseller Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (Doubleday, 2006). His latest book is The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
I am a huge fan of Ryan’s but this is simply not a serious proposal. All it does is provide ammunition to the opponents of fiscal responsibility. When we have a Republican in the white house and are just a few votes away from 60 senators, that’s the time to get serious.
RE: this is simply not a serious proposal.
I’d like to know which part of his proposal you consider un-serious and how do you propose to fix that part.
Is it because he does not cut enough? Is it because he cuts too far?
Which is it?
It’s not serious because it can’t be serious. There is no chance of its becoming law. Therefore, he can put in there whatever he wants to, since vote counting is of no consequence, and why some budget hawk Republicans (huelskamp) are perfectly happy to say, “no no I won’t support it, it’s not tight enough.”
All this does is create a straw man for Democrats to shoot at. Ryan doesn’t even say what deductions he plans to eliminate to compensate for lower personal and corporate tax rates.
At some point ten years ago or more, Bartlett suffered a severe head injury. Or someone dropped him on his head. At any rate, the guy is now a semi-lunatic. Nothing he says can be taken seriously.
You can get more in cuts than that by just adopting the 2000 base line and budget.
BTW, for over a year I've watched your posts and you NEVER have one single positive thing to say---that I've ever seen---about anything the Republicans do. It's always sniping, and I concluded long ago you are a Dem troll.
You have never, to my knowledge, stated a candidate who'se actually running that you support, for example. This budget is the latest dig.
Well you sure have missed a lot. But just like the other 90% Americans, I think the congress sucks. No back bone, no leadership, here and there you have a good person, in case you missed it and you did, rush said the leadership was willing to increase taxes in the last budget deal.
Who do you support for president.
What are the Republicans doing right? Whey is $5 TRILLION in cuts not acceptable?
As to the replacement of GOP leadership, I would agree. But there is a galaxy's worth of difference between saying that and doing anything that would support Dems, such as what you do by constantly and consistently whining and carping about the GOP. Rational analysis and constructive criticism is one thing. Sniping like a troll is another.
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