Washington Post Deems Rep. Paul Ryan's Budget Analysis "Absurd"

February 16, 2011 4:39 pm ET — Kate Conway

Rep. Paul Ryan

President Obama has released a 2012 budget proposal, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, responded with the expectable criticism. On NPR, Ryan said he was "disappointed" in the proposal and claimed that it includes "8.7 trillion in new spending." The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler fact checked Ryan's claim and, after a lengthy explanation, declared it "absurd" and "highly misleading."

Essentially, the Budget Committee staff is basing its "8.7 trillion" calculation on its own fantastical idea it's possible to freeze federal spending at absolute 2012 numbers — about $3.7 trillion — without providing any adjustment for things like inflation. That would mean that as the nation's gross domestic product naturally increases, government spending as a percentage of GDP would decrease, probably to untenable levels.

The president's budget, by contrast, does account for things like inflation, and suggests that by 2021 the federal government will be spending more like $5.7 trillion. Over ten years, the yearly differences between the estimates add up to around $8.7 trillion, and that's what the Budget Committee slaps a "new spending" label on. Kessler explains why that's unreasonable:

How unrealistic is this standard? In figure 5 of the committee analysis, it noted that the historical average for federal spending is 20.3 percent of the overall economy (gross domestic product.) ... In 2011, total outlays will be about 25.3 percent of GDP and the president's budget predicts it will be 23.1 percent of GDP in 2021. But discretionary outlays would be 6.3 percent of GDP, among the lowest levels in history. (The lowest level was 6.2 percent in 1999, under Bill Clinton.) [...]

But the Republican freeze-for-10-years would bring all U.S. government spending — the combined discretionary and mandatory categories — to just 15.1 percent of GDP in 2021, a level never achieved since 1962 (when the data in the budget start.) The lowest level is 17.2 percent, in 1965, and the Republican freeze would hit that level in 2018 and then plunge below it in 2019 (16.4 percent), 2020 (15.7 percent), and 2021 (15.1 percent).

The only way Obama could hit those targets is to propose wiping out all discretionary spending (including Defense) or eliminating a major entitlement such as Medicare. So it is an absurd standard.

"Obama could be faulted for not submitting a budget that gets federal government spending back to the 20.3 percent of the gross domestic product," Kessler writes. "But to demand that he meet a standard no modern president has ever met -- and then label it as 'new spending' -- is highly misleading."

Ryan has proven over and over that he's more than willing to cook the books if it means he'll have a scary number he can use to undermine Democratic ideas. For his deceptiveness on this count, Kessler awards Ryan "two Pinocchios."