Rep. Ryan Is Confused About Who Wants "Painful Austerity, The Kind You See In Europe"

October 24, 2011 2:42 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has worked hard to avoid talking to people who disagree with him in his own state, and he appears far more comfortable speaking at the Indiana Republican Party's fall dinner in this video. But comfortable or not, the GOP budget guru still got confused about which party is pushing for "painful austerity, the kind you see in Europe."

RYAN: Let's review for a moment the path we are on, where we stand right now. It pains me to say this, but it's become clear that the president has committed us to the current path: higher taxes, more dependency, more bureaucratic control, inaction on the drivers of our debt — just not even dealing with it — and painful austerity, the kind you see in Europe.

That's insane. While President Obama has consistently called for sensible debt-reduction measures over the medium term coupled with short-term spending to get out of the deep recession he inherited from President Bush, Ryan's own party has spent almost three years demanding immediate and painful austerity measures. The GOP put Ryan in charge of 'committing us' to a "Path" of sharp, short-sighted cuts that economists say would make unemployment worse, as the IMF says austerity policies have always done.

Ryan used Europe as a rhetorical club against Obama a number of other times later in the speech, but in a directly contradictory sense to that initial attack. In each other reference, Ryan accused Obama of favoring higher spending in the style of European social democracies, finishing by saying that Obama would trade the American "opportunity society with a safety net" for "the European-style cradle-to-the-grave social welfare state."

Now if you wanna get a sense of what this looks like, at the end of this path, the one we're on, look no further than Europe. If you wanna see what the kind of social chaos that can result from kicking the can down the road, turn on the TV and look at the young Greek kid lobbing the Molotov cocktail at the riot police. If we copy European policies, guess what, we're gonna get European results. [...] It's a moral tipping point. It's a tipping point where we permanently move to a society that has a net majority of takers vs. makers. [...]

We also believe in helping people who are down on their luck so they can get back on their feet. But we don't wanna turn that safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their incentive to make the most of their lives. It's anti-human. So we don't wanna go down this path that we see our friends across the Atlantic going down. [...]

Do we want the president's path of debt, doubt, and decline, the European-style cradle-to-the-grave social welfare state, where the government goes from promoting equal opportunity to equalizing the results of our lives, or do we want the American idea, the opportunity society with a safety net, dedicated to liberty, equality of opportunity and upward mobility?


These later allusions to Europe support a typical right-wing mischaracterization of progressive aims, and one Ryan loves to use. (After all, it pulls focus away from his plan to destroy the safety net and shovel the savings to the already prosperous through tax cuts for the rich.) But it's got nothing to do with reality, where progressives see decades of wage stagnation and declining upward mobility and doubt that more tax cuts for rich people will help restore those opportunities. And it's the opposite of what Ryan said at the top of his speech.

Presenting a false choice, and suggesting that spending money to keep firefighters on the job and food on a job-seeker's table is an attempt to "turn that safety net into a hammock," is nothing new for Ryan. But doing so just moments after blaming President Obama for the GOP's obsession with European-style austerity? That's special.