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Chait writes: "Ryan usually manages to elide the contradiction between the irreconcilable hopes placed in him by evading questioning, using weasel words, or just filibustering long enough to exhaust the topic."

Paul Ryan speaks during a campaign rally in Wisconsin, 08/12/12. (photo: Getty Images)
Paul Ryan speaks during a campaign rally in Wisconsin, 08/12/12. (photo: Getty Images)

Paul Ryan Breaks Down Under Wonkterrogation

By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

28 January 13


aul Ryan's great genius has not merely been that he has united conservative Republicans around a single vision - several Republicans have done this before - but that he has simultaneously persuaded moderates that he shares their beliefs as well. That is how Ryan has pitched himself to America, not as a right-wing ideologue but as a thoughtful numbers guy. Literally every piece of evidence in Ryan's career - from his formative infatuation with Ayn Rand to his indoctrination in the works of supply-siders to his mentorships under Jack Kemp and Sam Brownback to his entire voting record in public life - says that Ryan is a hard-core supply-sider whose overarching goal is to reduce tax rates on the rich, far more than it is to bring budget deficits to heel. Nevertheless, Ryan has managed to persuade legions of moderates and moderate conservatives - see James Stewart, Ruth Marcus, and Ross Douthat, to take a few examples - that he is secretly willing to raise tax revenue as part of some bipartisan agreement.

Ryan usually manages to elide the contradiction between the irreconcilable hopes placed in him by evading questioning, using weasel words, or just filibustering long enough to exhaust the topic. That's what makes his talk Wednesday with Ezra Klein and other reporters so interesting. Ryan tried to evade the question, but Klein wouldn't let him until Ryan had made it perfectly clear he would not accept higher revenue at all, under any conditions.

The conversation is worth close examination, because Ryan simply hurls up nonsensical rationales one after another, and finally offers his actual reason when he has run out of gibberish. Ryan begins by pledging his abiding fear of a "debt crisis," but insists he won't accept higher revenue, even in return for spending cuts. Ryan replies:

"They already got their revenues," Ryan said. "So what, we'll roll over and they get more revenues? That's not how it works. In the spirit of bipartisan compromise, they've gotten revenue increases already. We've yet to get anything as a result of it. It used to be 3 to 1. Isn't that what Erskine says? $3 of spending cuts to every dollar of tax increase. The president in his own budget last year claimed 2.5 to 1. We'd argue with whether they actually achieved that, but where's the 3? Where's the 2.5? Where's the $1.8 trillion in cuts?"

It is true - there was a $620 billion tax increase at the beginning of the year. On the other hand, there were $2.2 trillion in spending cuts in 2011. So you could just as easily say Republicans already got their spending cuts and there should be no more, right? Ryan replies:

"That was last session," Ryan said. "We're going forward now."

In fact, the $620 billion was also last session. In any case, notice how fast Ryan has flipped his logic. First he asserts that there can't be more revenue because we already increased some revenue. When reminded that we cut spending even more, he says it's "last session" and irrelevant. I did not attend this meeting, so I don't know how many seconds passed between Ryan insisting that a budget agreement in the last Congress inherently rules out a similar action and Ryan insisting that agreements in the last Congress are totally irrelevant to what happens going forward. It couldn't have been many.

There's more! Klein then asks what evidence he has that taking "another $600 billion or $700 billion out of tax expenditures" would harm the economy. Tax expenditures mean eliminating tax deductions for specific things, rather than raising rates. Here's Ryan's reply:

"I think rates matter," Ryan replied. "I think the statutory rate matters at the end of the day."

Note that this is not the premise of the question at all. He was asked about reducing tax deductions, leaving rates in place, and stated he wouldn't do it because he likes low rates.

Klein then transcribes the resulting exchange:

"But you could have the same or lower rate there," I said. After all, if you're closing loopholes, the top marginal tax rate doesn't change.

"I don't know about that," said Ryan. "Remember, we have to write these things statically. We don't use macroeconomic feedback on the Joint Tax Committee."

"But if you capped deductions at $15,000," I pressed, "that wouldn't change rates."

Ryan didn't budge. "You have to decide where you want to cap deduction or which deductions stay or go, what will pass, and what the resulting rates will be.

Here Ryan is descending into word salad, which impresses observers because he is using terms that pertain to tax policy - "statically," "Joint Tax Committee" - but he is not using them in a way that makes any sense. The fact is that you could increase tax revenue by capping deductions, without increasing rates, or even with lowering rates. Ryan would know - he ran for vice-president promising to do exactly that! Here's Paul Ryan explaining how the thing he now derides as impossible would work:
Rather than raise tax rates on individuals and businesses that are the source of job creation and economic growth in America, here's what I would propose as an alternative: Take away their tax breaks. Take away the deductions, take away the loopholes. By taking away tax loopholes, which primarily benefit the well off, which are Washington picking winners and losers in the economy, what we're doing is subjecting more of their income to taxation, albeit at a lower tax rate.

The difference, of course, is that Ryan and Romney wanted to take all the revenue they raised and use it to reduce tax rates. Democrats are suggesting instead to use some of the revenue to reduce the deficit, in return for spending cuts. Ryan now says it can't work - that you can't reduce tax expenditures without raising rates.

Ryan proceeds to insist he won't trade revenue for spending cuts because such a deal is inherently a trick:

The other problem I've noticed - and this is just experience from my fifteen years in Congress - every time you give a little revenue, it just goes to spending. The spending cuts are always later and the revenue gets pocketed. It's one of those fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

In fact, as Klein notes, Ryan's belief that revenue just gets "pocketed" is false. But you don't even need evidence to see that. It's silly as a matter of logic. Ryan is arguing for getting Obama to agree to spending cuts. He obviously thinks those cuts are real. Would it somehow make the cuts not real if they're attached to revenue increases?

[Update: I have a transcript now, and Ryan was asked this very thing. ("If you have a bill that has real spending cuts in it and you add $700 billion of revenues, does that mean that the spending cuts aren't real anymore?") Ryan's reply: "Well, look, I'm not going to get into that." Yes, why get into the inherent logical fallacy that undergirds your entire argument?]

Ryan then circled back to his "we already increased revenue" point, and then got to his real position: "And by the way, I think that revenue level is way too high, I don't see how you get there." After that, he changed the subject to corporate tax reform, where both sides want a revenue-neutral overhaul, which is therefore irrelevant. But the final confession is the tell. Ryan opposes more revenue because he thinks revenue is too high. He would like to cut spending, but keeping taxes low is the maximal priority.

Ryan understands that he can get much further by pitching himself as an opponent of debt rather than an opponent of taxes. So he will go pretty far to avoid explicating his actual legislative stance. But that is Paul Ryan's position. If you like Republican anti-tax orthodoxy, you'll like Paul Ryan. (Ryan mentor and current Kansas governor Brownback is currently implementing a plan, also set out in the first and most explicit version of Ryan's budget, to raise taxes on the poor while cutting them on the rich.) If you think Ryan's the guy to change that orthodoxy, you're kidding yourself. your social media marketing partner


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+119 # tswhiskers 2013-01-28 09:51
Thank you for stating clearly Ryan's true stance on tax policy. In this time of softball press interviews and "presenting both sides of the issue" reporting, it's refreshing to hear the occasional reporter stand pat with his questions until they are really answered. It's this weak-kneed style of reporting that's been popular in the press at least since Bush II that has allowed the Reps. to get away with masking their true agendas and sound as if they are working in the popular interest. The reporters who work at MSNBC do a real public service by earnestly reporting what goes on in D.C. and bringing into the open the truth of most Rep. policies and the occasional Dem. policy as well. These days we need "objective" reporting more than ever and we don't get very much of it. Ever since Rep. lawmakers started calling out the mainstream press as "liberal", thus making the word into a pejorative, reporting has indeed become partisan. It is my hope that more news outlets will cease their "both sides" reporting and instead return to "objective" reporting as well as they are able to do.
+46 # Sweet Pea 2013-01-28 11:27
If more people could watch Al Gore's "Current" TV station, this nation could be much better informed. Too bad that the major networks believe that "informing" the public shouldn't involve any "real" information.
-13 # dkonstruction 2013-01-29 14:26
Quoting Sweet Pea:
If more people could watch Al Gore's "Current" TV station, this nation could be much better informed. Too bad that the major networks believe that "informing" the public shouldn't involve any "real" information.

No one (or virtually) watched Current which is why Gore just sold (to Al Jazerra) it so that he could pocket $100 million for a failed tv network. So much for Gore's commitment to a truly progressive TV network.
+4 # bmiluski 2013-01-31 11:23
Current TV had an average of 208,000 viewers. It will now have over 50 million viewers to whom Al Gore's agenda of Environmental concers will me broadcast.
+48 # genierae 2013-01-28 12:22
I think that MSNBC has been a real gamechanger in D.C. politics. They also deserve some credit for the re-election of President Obama, and for the increasing popularity of his vision for the future of this country. The truth is nonpartisan, and it clearly shows us which party is truly representing the interests of the American people.
-11 # dkonstruction 2013-01-29 14:27
Quoting genierae:
I think that MSNBC has been a real gamechanger in D.C. politics. They also deserve some credit for the re-election of President Obama, and for the increasing popularity of his vision for the future of this country. The truth is nonpartisan, and it clearly shows us which party is truly representing the interests of the American people.

Quoting genierae:
I think that MSNBC has been a real gamechanger in D.C. politics. They also deserve some credit for the re-election of President Obama, and for the increasing popularity of his vision for the future of this country. The truth is nonpartisan, and it clearly shows us which party is truly representing the interests of the American people.

"gamechanger in D.C. politics." surely you jest?
+1 # genierae 2013-01-31 12:34
dk: I don't joke about D.C. politics, the consequences of Republican obstructionism are too tragic. Before MSNBC took a turn to the left, Democrats and progressives had very little positive media coverage, and if you don't think that makes a difference you need to think again. That's why Fox News and the right-wing Republicans hate MSNBC so much. They have had a definite affect on D.C. politics, and I call that a "gamechanger", what do you call it?
-1 # EPGAH3 2013-01-31 19:02
But MSNBC does not SHOW the truth, they are Obama's personal fan-club.
+3 # Mike Farrace 2013-01-31 12:53
Ezra Klein is smart and fair, does his homework, is fearless, and obviously loves his job. And I agree about MSNBC. It's not perfect, but I think it has more than its fair share of intelligent, high-quality reporters and anchors.
+79 # NAVYVET 2013-01-28 10:56
They're all slick con artists, and Ryan is their head clown. I always thought NeoCon meant "NeoConfederate " (and it does, of course), but it also means "NeoCongame".
+15 # mdhome 2013-01-29 21:09
Also neo---con artist.
+85 # giraffee2012 2013-01-28 11:08
Anyone who can't stay on subject (i.e. Ryan) has an agenda that he will try to force on us - and the double-speak is an old trick to keep "you" from knowing where he will really go.

Ryan is a monster and if not fully exposed - over and over - can do great damage. On Sunday's Meet the Press, David Gregory tried to bring Ryan back to subject but, in my opinion, did not succeed.

I would not have been as polite as David G - at a few points, I would have played back his prior statements that contradict any current one he delivered.
+53 # tbcrawford 2013-01-28 11:39
My question is why is Ryan on the Sunday talkies anyway!
+33 # giraffee2012 2013-01-28 16:34
Ryan's budget takes from the poor and gives to the Rich and adds to the debt!
+36 # CAMUS1111 2013-01-28 11:35
Awww, the wee little boy (would-be)emper or has no clothes. I'm shocked!
+50 # MainStreetMentor 2013-01-28 11:45
So, “doctor” Ryan, if I take two of these yellow pills, with a glass of cabernet, and paint the kitchen blue, then my cars’ gas mileage will double? … is that what you’re saying? Sounds like it to me.
+72 # ABen 2013-01-28 12:00
Paul Ryan is a shallow thinker prone to accepting simplistic solutions to complex problems. When questioned closely, as in this interview, his answers quickly devolve into nonsense. The GOP has to do better than this lightweight when it comes to economic policy.
+17 # mdhome 2013-01-29 21:14
Good description of Paul Lyin Ryan, a lightweight shallow thinker, passing bullsh!t off as thoughtful knowledge.
+33 # Susan1989 2013-01-28 12:07
I am not a great fan of Paul Ryan, but I am disturbed whenever there is talk of eliminating or limiting deductions....w hich is really the same thing as a tax increase...and will be almost irreversible. I do believe that there are certain things the ulta wealthy and corporations should not be able to do to avoid taxes...but limitations on deductions would affect everyone....mos t particularly the retired who count on deductions to keep their taxes low so that they can live on their investment income. I am all for getting rid of corporate hidden offshore...and tax breaks for hedge fund owners. I view Paul Ryan as a narcissist child who never matured past being President of the student council. He is like the guy who immediately after college returns to his high school to teach...and thinks he is now a grownup. Public life for. Him is all about living a sheltered existence while he tells the rest of us that we are lazy.
+28 # genierae 2013-01-28 13:08
Susan1989: "a narcissist child who never matured past being President of the student council". You have just described the Republicans in congress to a tee. They never graduated from high school, intellectually they are still in their teens. We grown-ups must find a way to leave them behind.
0 # AMLLLLL 2013-02-01 19:50
genirae, don't forget, Ryan was named 'biggest brown-noser' in his high school. Know the difference between a kiss a$$ and a brown-nose?

Depth perception.
+21 # fbacher 2013-01-28 14:00
There are many different kinds of deductions. Some would affect everyone, some not. The devil is in the details, but not wanting to start the conversation is not helpful.
+39 # Todd Williams 2013-01-28 12:11
I too am sick of softball questioning by the media. And I'm not talking about Fox. When I was a newspaper reporter I felt it was my duty to ask tough questions. It wasn't that I wanted to trip up the subject, I just wanted to burrow into the truth. I found that many public offfcials were self serving and evasive in order to protect their own position and power base. I understood their game and became pugnacious when necessary. Palin would call this way of questioning "lamestream." I call it being true to your craft.
+15 # Robert B 2013-01-28 12:40
"Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

At least Ryan can say this cliche without screwing up like George W. Bush did trying to say the same thing.
+30 # reiverpacific 2013-01-28 12:48
Ezra Klein is da man -he's what Ryan would like to be but truthful.
+24 # cafetomo 2013-01-28 12:50
When the scientific community submits a discovery or observation for peer review, it receives examination & critique by those qualified to do so. Economic forecasting is based on precedent and has every reason to be given similar consideration.

Assertions based on assumptions bandied about between politicians most often serves a rationale for ideology. Acquiescing to assumptive arguments of self interest as common, gives permission to eschew verifiable evidence for platitudes. Thus the sales pitch, reaching conclusions through assertions, which arrive by no more than a partial line of reasoning.

Preventing such fools from getting hold of the purse strings is what good government does. This lot seems unusually suspect, given a history of ranting on about bad government, while pushing for a bureaucracy tailored to more easily dispense and disperse staggering advantage to the experts of acquisition holding their strings.

Tax payers have this insufferable opinion that their money should not go into someone else's pockets. They are not wrong. Capitalistic governance is meant to shelter both rich and poor, primarily from one another. Letting financial choices be made by ideologues instead of economists is like giving the church your checkbook. You can pray they will remember your mortgage, but if you are staying warm this winter it will be from burning all the bibles they bought you or spend a your days like this dink, singing their praises, from their pews.
+17 # speedboy 2013-01-28 13:26
You can be sure "eliminating some tax deductions" means closing a few meaningless loopholes, and then claiming that now the standard deduction must also be lowered as a consequence, which would result in a tax increase for every American who files a short-form. Why else would are they refusing to state what specific deductions would be eliminated?
+20 # Scotty44 2013-01-28 13:58
Where do they get the idea that they got revenue increases? The expiration of the Bush tax cuts were already law, and the government even decreased revenues by keeping some of the cuts.
+29 # jmac9 2013-01-28 14:17
Republicans destroyed America. 8 years of Bush-Cheney Republicans caused the economic collapse -

Ryan and Republicans today are the same agenda of disaster.

We wouldn't hear from them anymore except they are bankrolled by criminal billionaire bankers/corpora tions like the Koch Bros. - so they can still buy TV time and have Fraud Fox news give them air time.

Corporate America is right wing nut Republicans against you.

Republican strategists had a meeting what to do for the next elections - they decided they will just lie better because they aren't going to change their agenda.
+27 # jmac9 2013-01-28 14:23
anyone who believes in the grossly immature and psychopathic Ayn Rand...

well its lunatics attracting lunatics.

And that is the Republicans.

As Newt Gingrich was quoted, we have to lie or we'd never get elected.
+19 # peterjkraus 2013-01-28 17:11
I began working in radio in 1984, I'm still doing journalism for some stations,and I can tell you from long experience that "liberal" media is a misnomer. With the possible exception of the excellent "The Nation", I have never run across a radio station, newspaper or magazine that was owned by a non-millionaire . And you can bet that any media owner has his own interest at heart.
+6 # marilynrssll 2013-01-29 23:41
Here's the adage/metaphor I use for double-speak:
"Do you walk to school or do you carry your lunch?
+8 # JosephR 2013-01-30 04:16
Part I

When Paul Ryan mentions the 15% tax rate for corporations/co mpanies in Canada, he doesn't mention that while [since 2007] Prime Minister Steven Harper has given corporations 60 billion dollars per year in tax cuts, and that the annual deficit is now over 20 billion dollars per year.

This right-wing Prime Minister has also increased the Employment Insurance [EI] premiums for every working person in Canada by $0.10 for every $100 of Gross Income earned over the past 2 years, which takes away 1.2 billion dollars out of the economy per year, while at the same time he has increased the number of eligible weeks required to receive EI, as well as reducing the number of weeks a person is entitled to receive benefits.
+7 # JosephR 2013-01-30 04:16
Part II

As well, for November, 2012, his monetary policies produced a deficit of 1.85 billion dollars, or over 22 billion dollars per annum. This clearly demonstrates that this "Harper Government", which says that it is committed to reducing our budget deficit, is not at all concerned with negating our annual Federal Budget deficit as they say, but rather to give corporations the right to pillage all of the Canadian resources available, and to sell them at basement-bargai n prices to the same multi-national corporations. These resources should belong to all Canadians, not just the corporate leechers who are currently raping resources in our country!

At the same time, he is actively seeking to pass FIPA, which is a Free Trade Agreement with Pacific Rim countries, which include the U. S. of A., Japan, China, etc., which has been described as "NAFTA on steroids!" by journalists and experts who have heard some of the details from "whistleblowers".

Apparently FIPA, when signed, shall give corporations the power to sue the Governments who sign this agreement for any Capital Costs incurred by corporations due to regulatory and environmental laws enacted by the signatory countries, whether already legislated or in the future by the signatory countries of FIPA.
+8 # JosephR 2013-01-30 04:17
Part III

Why do I say "Apparently"? Because I am not a corporate lawyer or representative who has been able to see the document in its draft form; the entire FIPA Agreement negotiations have been conducted in secrecy behind closed doors, with the populace held in ignorance.

I fervently believe that if an agreement is negotiated, while in total secrecy from the constituents, that it will affect, then the said binding document should become "Null and Void", but these right-wing politecks don't care one whit about the populace who they are supposed to represent.

I'm certainly glad that Canada doesn't have the lunatic Paul Ryan in our Parliament, but I sure hope that Canada may be able to survive the rape and pillage which this "dis-Honourable " Steven Harper appears to be committed to, and who will remain in power until at least 2015!

Joseph R. Miller
Vancouver, BC, Canada
+4 # flippancy 2013-01-30 16:15
1. Paul Ryan would need an extension ladder to reach the level of pond scum.

2. There are rational conservatives, just not a single one in the United States and now it looks like not in Canada either.
+4 # wrknight 2013-01-31 08:57
What I don't understand is how anyone could have doubts about Ryan's true philosophy. It is so obvious it exudes from him like the stench of greed. Anyone who believes that making rich people richer is better for everyone has never spent any time in any underdeveloped country. Visit Mali sometime and see how the rich help the poor.

Furthermore, anyone who remembers Ryan's voting record during the Bush administration, when most of the debt was being created, should automatically reject his claims of concern about the debt as pure bull. And if Ryan claims he couldn't foresee the outcome of his votes, then the claim that he is the Republican party's intellectual says a whole lot about the entire Republican party.

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