Skip to main content

Ryan budget is a firing offense

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
March 14, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, presents his budget plan Tuesday.
Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, presents his budget plan Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: Many are oblivious to D.C.'s budget debate; that's just as well
  • He says Ryan's budget re-offer neglects math; Murray's also falls short; Obama's up next
  • He says they are all unworkable; we should be talking about investment, not spending
  • Rothkopf: Growth, including federal programs that work, is only real solution to debt

Editor's note: David Rothkopf is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

(CNN) -- For most Americans, the budget debate in Washington is reaching dog-whistle pitch, a tone that only partisans can hear. Which, as far as I am concerned, is a mercy.

Paul Ryan offered his budget on Tuesday. Let's do give him props for making the effort and all. The vast majority of his colleagues are potted plants on this front, reading talking points, sometimes banging the table and doing precious little else. But what Ryan calls a budget is what any CEO would call a firing offense. It uses some numbers and some words that appear in real budgets. But it neglects some other key elements ... like arithmetic or the truth or a greater economic purpose.

The Ryan budget depends entirely on unspecified tax reforms and the replacement of revenues he doesn't care for (such as those associated with Obamacare) with others he doesn't care to actually define or describe. The rigorous, widely respected Center on Budget and Policy Priorities slammed the exercise, taking Ryan to task for failing to live up to his billing as the guy courageous enough to put his ideas out there.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

It wrote, "Is it courageous to propose tax cuts but not identify a single tax expenditure to rein in? Is it courageous to target your deepest cuts on the poorest Americans, who vote in lower numbers and provide little in campaign contributions? Is it courageous to camouflage hundreds of billions in cuts for the poor and disadvantaged in broad budget categories without identifying the programmatic cuts, so that analysts, journalists, and other policymakers can't identify the specific cuts and assess their impacts?"

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, we have a real sign of the End Times: Senate Democrats have actually come out with a budget for the first time since the iPad was invented. There are children in school, reading, who were born since their last budget.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray unveiled it Wednesday. Her budget is as partisan as Ryan's and offers little common ground with his on controversial issues. It calls for $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction through the end of the decade, almost $1 trillion of it from new revenues.

Ryan calls the divergent plans the beginning of a process. The question is where that process will lead.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Early next month, the president will submit the budget he was supposed to have sent to the Hill in February. There it will sit, because it too is just a negotiating ploy, an opening bid.

These compilations of charts and data are not budgets at all. They are just props in the Budget Follies of 2013. Not one of the long-term visions sketched out in these plans will actually be realized. There will be no serious discussion or honest debate about enacting meaningful tax reform, rethinking defense spending or remaking our entitlement system for a world in which people generally live longer and in which government resources are stretched.

But, frankly, these aren't even the most critical issues we should be addressing.

The budget is important. Cutting our deficits matters. But in a country in which corporate profits and the stock market are at record highs but in which jobs are being created far too slowly and median incomes are sagging, we have far more basic issues to grapple with.

The United States is like a business whose model for making revenue is failing, trying to save itself by cutting down on travel expenditures and the cost of making photocopies. Sure, we shouldn't overspend. But if we don't figure out what business we're in -- what new industries will create tomorrow's jobs, what kind of new workers we'll need, what kind of infrastructure we must have to be competitive and attract investment -- our deficit problems will seem minor compared with our social and political concerns.

Here we go again: Ryan unveils budget
Rep. Price: GOP budget 'a better way'
Sen. Blumenthal: Root of DC dysfunction

Our most important national discussion should not be about spending but about investment. We need to recognize that some federal programs help grow the economy and weigh the return on investment we will get from these and which are essential to growing the new industries that will be the employers of tomorrow ... and will provide the growth that is the only real solution to our debt issues.

The Ryan budget cuts transportation spending in a country that has neglected its highways and bridges for over half a century. It doesn't plan for the infrastructure spending we will need to respond to the consequences of climate change (like hurricane relief) or anticipate the investment we could make to avoid such problems in the first place. It doesn't discuss how to expand information technology and next-generation energy infrastructure as we must.

Perhaps the Senate budget or the president's will be wiser about investing -- although neither is likely to think big enough about transport spending or an infrastructure bank or, better, a network of regional infrastructure finance institutions. What seems more likely, sadly, is more hollow gestures, scurrying to avoid artificial deadlines and visionless crisis management. Not one leader has emerged in Washington who is providing anything truly different that cuts to the core questions we face or rises to the true challenge of our times.

Which leaves us but one consolation. Washington has grown so shrill that most of this empty debate will be heard only by our dogs. Pity the dogs.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT