"It’s time to tell people the truth,” Mitt Romney said in a radio interview last spring. “And so my campaign’s about telling people we’ve got to cut back on our spending and finally live within our means or we could face economic calamity.”
He’s right. Romney and his new running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, have been far franker than the Democrats about the need to rein in runaway federal spending. Team Obama’s core argument — that raising taxes on the rich can avert “economic calamity” without cutting popular benefit programs such as Medicare — is simply false.
But on an absolutely critical point, the Republican candidates are not telling the truth; they’re avoiding it. They will not admit an undeniable fact: Increased revenue has to be part of any serious attempt to deal with the nation’s looming fiscal crisis.
As a recent editorial in The Washington Post put it: “The flawed Romney-Ryan approach is to believe that the debt problem can be solved entirely on the spending side. That is a mathematical and moral impossibility.”
Start with the numbers. Ryan’s famous budget proposal — hailed by Romney as “marvelous” and by many conservatives as Holy Writ — includes no new revenue measures. In fact, it would actually slash taxes, mainly for the wealthy, by $4.5 trillion over 10 years. So here’s the truth: The Ryan plan would take a generation or more to reach a balanced budget.
The moral argument against Ryanomics is even more powerful than the mathematical one. With revenues off the table, his plan rips apart the social safety net. Food stamps, Pell grants, job training, Medicaid — they’d all be sacrificed at the altar of a smaller federal government.
During the primaries, Newt Gingrich denounced the Ryan plan as “radical ... right-wing social engineering.” An even more damning indictment comes from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has tightly linked arms with the Republican Party on social issues like abortion.
Last spring, the bishops sent a series of letters to the House of Representatives warning that the “moral measure of this budget debate” would be based on “how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated.” In a direct rebuke to Ryan and the Republicans, the bishops wrote: “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.”
Speaking of “shared sacrifice,” Romney admitted earlier this year that under the Ryan budget, which eliminates all capital gains levies, he would pay virtually no taxes at all. By what “moral measure” could that possibly be justified?
Math and morality are not the whole story. The Romney-Ryan plan is deceitful for a third important reason: politics. Even if Republicans take the White House and the Senate, while preserving their majority in the House, Senate Democrats are sure to retain enough strength to mount a successful filibuster against any Republican budget proposal. So if Romney and Ryan want to make laws and not just speeches, they will have to compromise. And any conceivable budget compromise will require a revenue component.
In their joint interview Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Romney praised Ryan as a lawmaker skilled “in finding those people that can come together and find common ground.” Ryan argued that in the Republican-run House, “we’re planting the seeds for bipartisan compromises on the big issues of the day to be realized next year so we can get things done.”
There is no evidence to support these claims. Yes, early in his career, Ryan did work with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon on a proposal to overhaul Medicare. And he voted for bipartisan measures such as the auto bailout.
But in recent years, he’s emerged as a leader of the GOP hard-liners in the House. His budgets have failed to attract a single Democratic vote. As a member of the Simpson-Bowles commission on the fiscal future, he led the opposition to an eminently sensible plan that contained $3 in program cuts for every $1 in new revenues.
House Republicans have not been “planting the seeds for bipartisan compromises.” Exactly the opposite is true. The poisonous partisanship of the Obama years has made those essential compromises harder than ever.
Romney is correct in saying that Democrats are not being serious about fiscal responsibility. But when it comes to his own plans and his own running mate, he consistently fails his own truth test.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.