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Paul Ryan's cowardly vagueness

April 23, 2012 - Mike Maneval
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post appropriately have criticized Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, who represents southeastern Wisconsin in the U.S. House, for not specifying how his budget plan recuperates revenues under lower tax rates to remain revenue-neutral. As Drum noted for the website of the news magazine Mother Jones in early April, Ryan is vague about the loopholes or deductions he'd eliminate to regain the estimated $400 billion not collected under his preferred lower tax rates. Klein also noted in early April that the plan "doesn't name a single loophole or tax break that Ryan and the Republicans would close."

Such criticisms are fair, because Ryan's vagueness is a failure of leadership, a cowardly hope someone else will make the most difficult choices so he or she can bear the brunt of anger from whichever group of Americans is asked to sacrifice the most.

While Drum and other critics are right about Ryan's aversion to detail, Ryan could demonstrate leadership and adopt a tough but simple solution: Retain the charitable givings deduction, and cut, across the board, the benefits and exemptions of loopholes by a third. As Drum's chart at shows, the combined worth of the deductions and loopholes, while treating charitable givings as a sacred cow, is $1,324 billion. Instead of eliminating any given deduction or tax credit in its entirety, as Drum's commentary presumes, the burden could be bore by 20 of the 21 he lists equally.

Having suggested this, I do not know if its the best solution; it has flaws, in my own opinion, particularly in who it places the burden on - hard-working, tax-paying Americans.

And yet, Ryan hasn't proposed this challenging yet straightforward solution, or any solution. James Kwak argued in late March as these criticisms of Ryan's vagueness surfaced that Ryan wants to immunize certain loopholes - namely, the ones for investment and capital gains revenues - from any sacrifice. Kwak argues detailing a plan where every loophole but those ones saw some sort of hit, up to complete elimination, would expose his protective attitude toward investors and the financial sector. Writing for, Kwak says if Ryan provided details "it would be patently obvious that he is waging class warfare on behalf of the 1 percent."

Ryan could answer such criticism from Kwak and Klein and Drum with some specificity, whether its the flawed plan I presented here or some other batch of details. Every day he doesn't, is a day someone like Kwak can speculate about his hidden agenda. And in the absence of clear and transparent leadership, absent due to cowardice, Ryan deserves such speculation about his hidden motives.


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