Among Beltway media, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's budget plan -- which privatizes Medicare, slashes Medicaid, and guts the safety net -- was viewed as "courageous." Ryan himself has been praised as being "well-known for his fiscal conservatism" and as a "budget hawk."
But all of this presupposes that Paul Ryan and the national Republican Party he has come to represent is most concerned with reining in the budget deficit. A closer look at Ryan's budget proposal finds that while attacking Medicare and other social insurance programs, it actually preserves spending and other deficit-busting measures for some of Ryan and the GOP's biggest corporate donors. Here's are some examples:
- Big Insurers: Privatizing Medicare means handing it over to the insurance industry, which would create a windfall of billions of dollars previously used to finance an American-owned public program to instead line the pockets of executives at companies like Aetna and UnitedHealth Group. The insurance industry is Ryan's second-largest career donor, having given him $815,328, slightly edging out the banking industry. Positioning themselves against health reform, health insurers like Blue Cross/Blue Shield have funneled a larger portion of their dollars to Republicans over the past two cycles.
- The Drug Industry: One very easy way to quickly cut the deficit without spending a dime would actually be to cut government -- that is, a massive government embargo on cheap Canadian drugs. The U.S. government, at the behest of American pharmaceutical companies, currently bars Americans from freely purchasing re-imported Canadian drugs. These drugs range from 20-80 percent cheaper. Re-importing drugs would save Americans money, and it would save the government -- which purchases drugs through the Medicare program -- money, too, up to $20 billion over ten years. In opposition to free-market conservatives like the Cato Institute and certain Republican senators like Louisiana's David Vitter, the Ryan budget does nothing to remove this ban on Canadian drugs. It also does not authorize Medicare to negotiate for better rates from the industry, which could shave up to $14 billion every year from the deficit. Big Pharma and the health products industry are Ryan's 8th-largest career donors, giving $323,892. The industry has worked hard to keep a section of Republicans and influential right-wingers in its pocket. A few months ago I confronted right-wing lobbyist Grover Norquist over his organization's support for the ban on Canadian drugs. He took $140,000 from the industry between 2009 and 2010.
- The Arms Dealers: If there's one group that ripe for budget-cutting, it's the defense contractors. The military budget in the U.S. eats up the largest share of discretionary spending, and bipartisan commissions estimate that we could cut up to $100 billion from this amount every year without threatening national security or foreign policy priorities. Ryan leaves the Pentagon untouched and his running mate Mitt Romney actually wants to increase defense spending. In the 2011-2012 cycle, Lockheed Martin's PAC gave $5,000 to Ryan, and Boeing donated $6,000. Following the takeover of the House of Representatives by the Republicans, both Boeing and Lockheed's political spending began trending towards Republicans over Democrats. Ryan and Romney apparently aim to keep that spigot of dollars flowing.
Paul Ryan and the Republicans are no doubt loving their media portrayal as serious deficit hawks. But what their budget plan really does is attack programs and investments in America's great middle class while protecting wasteful spending on their corporate donors. It's another giveaway to Corporate America, courtesy of the GOP.