NYT readers must be wondering whether David Brooks believes in Santa Claus. After all, he repeatedly professes his belief in the serious Mr. Ryan. This faith persists in spite of all the evidence to the opposite, including evidence that Brooks cites in arguing his case.
Today in an Opinionator discussion with Gail Collins in the NYT, Brooks told readers:
“I don’t see how anybody can say that Ryan is unserious when, unlike most national pols, he actually has a budget detailed enough for C.B.O. to score.”
Brooks was good enough to link to the CBO analysis so that readers could verify his assertion themselves. Those who did would find CBO’s disclaimer in the first paragraph:
“Those calculations [the ones prepared at the request of Representative Ryan] do not represent a cost estimate for legislation or an analysis of the effects of any given policies. In particular, CBO has not considered whether the specified paths are consistent with the policy proposals or budget figures released today by Chairman Ryan as part of his proposed budget resolution.
The amounts of revenues and spending to be used in these calculations for 2012 through 2022 were provided by Chairman Ryan and his staff.”
In other words, Representative Ryan did not give CBO a set of tax and spending proposals to be scored. He told them to write down a spending and revenue path. The difference is that the former would require that Ryan indicate specific spending cuts and tax increases that he was proposing.
For example, if Mr. Ryan was actually writing a budget for CBO to score, he would tell them that he wants to cut spending on Head Start by 50 percent over the next decade, spending on medical research by 30 percent, and spending on education by 40 percent. On the tax side, he would tell CBO that he wants to eliminate the mortgage interest tax deduction over the next decade, phase out the deduction for employer provided health insurance over the next two decades, and immediately eliminate the charitable interest tax deduction.
The point is that he would hand CBO specific policy proposals like these and then have CBO show what the budget looks like. This is absolutely not what Ryan did, as CBO tried to say as clearly as it possible could.
Instead, Ryan told CBO to write down specific numbers for broad categories of spending. This means he told them to write down that spending on non-health care, non Social Security spending will be 4.5 percent of GDP in 2040. He told them to write down specific numbers for tax revenue.
Since CBO works for Congress, it does what powerful members of Congress want it to do. Thus it wrote down down the numbers that Mr. Ryan instructed them to write down. However CBO was honest and clearly stated that it had just written down numbers given to it by Mr. Ryan and his staff. Unfortunately David Brooks is either too confused to understand what CBO wrote, or alternatively is deliberately trying to mislead NYT readers into believing that CBO scored a Ryan budget when it did not.
There is one other issue worth beating up on Brooks for in this piece. At one point he says:
I have enormous respect for Ryan and I regard most of the commentary I’ve read about him by people who’ve never even interviewed him to be ludicrous.
Huh? What planet is this guy on? It’s wonderful that Brooks has had the opportunity to interview Paul Ryan. Most of us will not have that opportunity.
In David Brooks Land that apparently means that we don’t have the right to comment on Ryan’s positions on issues. That might be true in David Brooks eliteland, but we still have pretensions of having a democracy in this country. That means that we all get to say whatever we damn well please about Representative Ryan, even if we never interviewed him. If that troubles Brooks, then perhaps he can find some dictatorship where speech is regulated more to his liking.
In short, there is no Santa Claus and there is no serious Representative Ryan, got that?
Thanks to Robert Salzberg for calling this to my attention.
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economy and Policy Research. He also writes a regular blog, Beat the Press, where this post original appeared