Republicans to Pick Far Right Candidate as Speaker of the House

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Earlier this month, John Boehner announced that he would resign as Speaker of the House of Representatives, the position he has held since the Republicans took power following the 2010 elections. Boehner had a difficult time as speaker. He was not only negotiating with a Democratic president, he also had to deal with growing criticisms from within his own party.


This was making it increasingly difficult for him to craft compromises with President Obama. There were many Republicans who refused to follow Boehner's leadership even on essential pieces of legislation, like approving a budget to keep the government running and extending the debt ceiling so the government could pay its bills. Many House Republicans seemed to view as a good thing that the government was shut down. They also seemed to not really care if the government couldn't make good on its financial obligations.


The prospect of continuing battles within his own party, coupled with the lure of a very lucrative second career as a lobbyist, led Boehner to announce his retirement from the House. To the great embarrassment of the Republicans, they found it difficult to get a replacement. There seemed to be no one who was able to line up support from all segments of the party, and who also was willing to take the job.


Finally, the party turned to Representative Paul Ryan. Ryan is known to many as the vice-presidential candidate in Mitt Romney's unsuccessful 2012 campaign for the presidency. He is also chair of the Ways and Means Committee, a powerful position which has control over all tax and spending legislation.


Ryan claimed that he was not interested in the job, preferring his current position. But after Republican House members agreed to various conditions he set, including that he have time for his family rather than spend his weekends fundraising, he decided to run for Speaker.


The Washington media were quick to tout Ryan's decision, highlighting his status as a "budget wonk." The news and television stations all thought it was important that we realized that our new speaker was someone who really knows the details of the budget. Incredibly, the media spent almost no time telling the country that Representative Ryan holds positions that put him at the far right-wing of the political spectrum.


To begin, Ryan has been quite vocal about supporting the privatization of Social Security, the government-run retirement system. He even put forward his own plan back in 2005 when President Bush was trying to privatize the system. Privatizing Social Security is unpopular across the political spectrum, with even the vast majority of Republicans preferring the current system.


Ryan has also proposed privatizing Medicare, the health insurance program for seniors. Medicare is also a hugely popular program with the vast majority of the public being opposed to its privatization. It is also worth noting that both Social Security and Medicare are extremely efficient programs, with administrative costs that are a small fraction of the costs of privatized systems. In the case of Social Security, the costs are less than 1/15th of the cost of privatized systems in countries like the United Kingdom and Chile.


In addition to wanting to privatize these two core government social welfare programs, Representative Ryan has also proposed whittling down the rest of the budget to virtually nothing. He has placed a huge priority on balancing the budget and paying down the national debt. In order to be able to pay down the debt, while still cutting taxes (another big part of the Ryan agenda), Ryan proposed essentially eliminating the entire non-military portion of the budget. This means ending government spending on airports, roads and bridges, criminal justice, food inspection, and just about everything else the government does.


This was in a budget proposal that Ryan put forward in 2011 after he took over as chair of the House Budget Committee. He asked the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to score his proposal. CBO showed that his plan would lower the discretionary portion of the budget, the section that includes just about everything except Social Security and Medicare, to just 3.5 percent of GDP by 2050. Military spending is currently around 3.5 percent of GDP and Ryan has indicated that he wants to keep the military budget roughly at this level. That implies that spending on everything else would go to zero if Ryan were to have his way.


Fortunately, Ryan is not likely to be crafting the federal budget for 2050. However, it is a serious issue that the media have largely concealed Ryan's extremist views from the public. Insofar as people have been reading the news stories in the last couple of weeks, they are only likely to know that Ryan apparently likes numbers. It is far more important that the public know Mr. Ryan's political positions than whether or not he is good at arithmetic.


- Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He is the author of several books []. He also has a blog, "Beat the Press []," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues.


This article was originally published by The Hankyoreh [] on November 5, 2015
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