Mark Pocan reacts to Paul Ryan’s budget

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Mark Pocan reacts to Paul Ryan’s budget

Premiere Date: 
March 14, 2013

Mark Pocan responds to Paul Ryan's recent federal budget proposal.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, chair of the house budget committee, saw committee passage of his fiscal 2014 Path to Prosperity plan on Wednesday. Under the budget blueprint, Ryan cuts the federal deficit $4.6 trillion over ten years. His budget does this with steep spending cuts to non-defense programs and by leaving in place tax increases hatched as part of the fiscal cliff agreement. The Ryan plan saves $1.8 trillion by repealing the federal health care law, and it once again calls for changing Medicare into a premium support or voucher program. It turns Medicaid into a block grant program, giving more autonomy to states, and repeals the Affordable Care Act expansion of that program. Additionally, Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity lowers taxes on individuals and corporations. Here's Representative Ryan speaking at his budget roll-out in Washington.

Paul Ryan:

We can't just keep spending money we don't have. That's the basic acknowledgment when you're budgeting, just like families and businesses do, that you cannot continue to kick the can down the road, that you cannot continue to spend money we just don't have. How do we do this? We cut wasteful spending. We repair the safety net so that we can help those in need. We protect and strengthen key priorities, like Medicare, a program that's going bankrupt, that's jeopardizing the health, security for millions of American seniors. And we foster a healthier economy so we can create jobs and grow more wages. You see, balancing the budget is not simply an act of arithmetic, not just getting expenditures and revenues to add up. Balancing the budget is a means to an end.  It’s a means to a healthier economy, a pro-growth society, a pro-growth economy that delivers opportunity. That is first and foremost why we are doing this.

Frederica Freyberg:

Congressman Paul Ryan's budget priorities are not those of house Democrats. We go to Washington now to check in with freshman congressman Mark Pocan, the 2nd district Democrat, who is a member of the house budget committee. Congressman, welcome to "Here and Now" as Wisconsin's congressman from the 2nd.

Mark Pocan:

Thank you, Frederica.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, I want to just point out that we do have a little bit of a delay here on this satellite from Washington, but I think our viewers can follow along, but I do want to apologize a little bit for it. As a member of the house budget committee, you voted no on the Paul Ryan plan. Why?

Mark Pocan:

As you said, this is the same recycled ideas that were rejected by the public last year only, with more bad math and more cost to the middle class. It's a really bad budget. It voucherizes Medicare so seniors won't have that in place for the future. It puts more of a tax burden on the middle class while it gives tax breaks to the wealthiest, and keeps all the corporate loop holes that are out there. And it does a whole lot more that we saw a year ago presented back over to us. Democrats have a different view. We feel that we should be doing even more to jump-start the economy, and not what the Paul Ryan plan would do, which we’ve been told by experts would cost two million jobs next year alone.

Frederica Freyberg:

There is some compromise, it seems to me, in this budget, that being, he maintains the tax hikes on the high-income earners that came out of the fiscal cliff deal.  

Mark Pocan:

Well, one of the interesting things that is in here is, they repeal the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but they keep the revenue from the Affordable Care Act. So it's kind of imaginary. How can you repeal a program, but still keep the revenue? They don't quite want to answer that question. It would be almost as if we said we should be hiring people to take the pots of gold from the end of rainbows and count that as revenue. Because it’s about as credible. And that's the problem. The math just doesn't add up in the Paul Ryan GOP plan. That's why the Democrats have a different alternative.

Frederica Freyberg:

What do you make of the idea that he does keep the tax hikes, though, on these higher income earners that were hatched as part of this previous deal?  

Mark Pocan:

Well, up to this point, we've done about three cuts to every $1 of revenue. So while you're keeping that, that's part keep us– to try to get to the point of getting in balance. But Paul Ryan's plan is trying to take care of  the whole deficit in ten years, which is not possible. That's why he has to use the fuzzy math of the Affordable Care Act and other things. So he needs the revenue where it's there, it’s already been approved. He just now wants to lower the rates on the most wealthy and on corporations. And it's said that if you make a million dollars, you'll have a $200,000 tax break. But if you're a middle class family you're going to spend $2,000 more because they're going to have to pay for these things somewhere. He keeps the revenues that we've already had, but don’t forget, it's been a three to one ratio so far in trying to address the deficit.

Frederica Freyberg:

Let me lay this one on you too. Congressman Ryan says this, “Last year the American people chose divided government, so this year we have to make it work.” Congressman Ryan says.  He says, “We offer this budget in recognition of that need and in a spirit of goodwill.” How in your mind does this budget foster goodwill?  

Mark Pocan:

You know, Frederica, I'll tell one of the most outrageous things since coming up here is how partisan this place is. I thought Wisconsin, with the uprising, was a little crazy. I’ll tell you, around here, it's even worse. To think that putting this plan out there as a sign of goodwill, introduce it one day and the next day have us mark it up, is not exactly the process I'm used to. As a former chair of the budget committee in Wisconsin we spent eight hours a day, three days a week, for four months crafting a budget. Every single line meant something, because it's really a statement of your values. Instead, this is just a statement of the same recycled policies. You know, gutting Medicare, giving tax breaks to the wealthiest, gutting Medicaid. Those are the same things we saw and the public rejected in November's elections. So to say that that’s somehow a goodwill leaf, could only be a goodwill leaf in Washington, because it's certainly not in Wisconsin or anywhere else in the country.

Frederica Freyberg:

As you know, the Ryan Path to Prosperity calls for a repeal to the health care law. Let's hear what Congressman Ryan says about that.

Paul Ryan:

Let's take Obamacare, for example, the Affordable Care Act. We don't like this law. This is why we're proposing to repeal this law in our budget. More importantly, we believe that this law is going to collapse under its own weight. Please know that when Americans see exactly what this law entails, which they have not seen all of these details. Those of us who work on these oversight committees, who know what's going to happen to the provider networks, who know what's going to happen to people when they lose their health insurance or their jobs. They’re not going to like this law. This is why we’re not only repealing this law, because we don’t think we can afford to borrow $1.8 trillion in extra spending this law entails. We think we can replace it with a better health care system. That's also something we're going to be proposing. Not only are we saying, here's how you save and strengthen Medicare for current and future generations, but here's a better patient-centered system to replace Obamacare.

Frederica Freyberg:

Congressman Pocan, what's your reaction to Paul Ryan there?

Mark Pocan:

You know, again, we’ve passed the Affordable Care Act. It's the law of the land. He wants to repeal the benefits to tens of millions of Americans, but somehow he still wants to keep the revenue because otherwise his budget will never be balanced on the imaginary math he's working on. It's just part of the hypocrisy of Washington you know. I think we need to get more of the Republicans back home talking to people in their districts instead of just talking to each other in Washington, where this seems like a really brilliant idea. Because I think to the rest of us in the country, we look at this and say, we are to repeal the law but keep the revenue, just so you can say you balanced the budget? I mean, that's really fuzzy math.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet he does make it sound kind of frightening going forward in terms of what the Affordable Care Act or the health care law will give all the people.  

Mark Pocan:

It will make sure that people have access to health care. That was the whole idea of the Affordable Care Act. And I think that's the reality you're going to see. In fact, one of the things we know we have to deal with is rising health care costs. That's something both parties can agree on. But we've watched the rise start to diminish because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. There are provisions in there to keep health care costs from rising as fast as they have. But that's our real challenge. It's not that people who paid all their life into Medicare should suddenly not get that promise that we had to them, that Paul Ryan and the Republicans are going to take away. Instead what we need to do is make sure we're providing health care, as we should, which is the Affordable Care Act, and then getting people back to work. Because in 2014, the year of this budget, three-quarters of the deficit is due to an under-performance of the economy, people who are unemployed or under-employed. If you get people back working, that's we should be focuing on, you'll solve most of the deficit problems. That on top of rising health care costs. But don't blame the people who’ve paid all their life into Medicare and Social Security, and somehow try to balance the budget on their backs. It's just not fair.  

Frederica Freyberg:

So the senate Democrat plan would spend $100 billion on infrastructure, effectively raise taxes on the wealthy, while leaving all of these kinds of health care programs in place. And in your mind, that is the way to spur the economy?  

Mark Pocan:

You know, I've heard from Liberal and Conservative economists. The best thing we can do right now is jump-start the economy. And the best way you do that is invest in infrastructure, and education, and research and development. That's what we have to do. If you want to make people taxpayers, you have to get them jobs. Once they have a job, they're going to be paying into the system. That's going to stop that trajectory of where we have a deficit. But that's what we should focus on. The deficit is not the main issue out there. The main issue out there is the economy. And we need to do everything we can to strengthen the economy, and that means an investment by the government right now, and I think that's the right plan the Democrats are going to offer.

Frederica Freyberg:

How important do you think balancing the budget is?  

Mark Pocan:

Well, we also provide serious deficit relief in the Democratic alternative that's out there. The problem is, unless you get people back to work, we're only solving part of the problem. If we also get people back to work and paying taxes, that's going to really hasten taking care of that deficit. But we have to work on that. If we just continue to squeeze everything down now, while we’re in a fragile economy, this Paul Ryan Republican Path to Austerity-- We saw what's happening right now, we can see it in England. They are facing a triple-dip recession because of austerity policies. If we only do cuts like the Republicans want us to do, you're going to have the same problem. That’s why we have to have a balanced approach, much like we’ve solved budgets when I was in the state of Wisconsin. If you do that, we can get out of this a lot quicker and a lot better.

Frederica Freyberg:

So we should probably then expect more of the same from this divided government, kind of, talking past each other on these issues?  

Mark Pocan:

You know, I'll tell you, until we can get people to sit down and actually talk to each other, I'm kind of pessimistic. I thought last congress was the rock bottom. I'm hoping we're on the rise. But you have to have people willing to sit down. And when you get a budget produced by the Republicans that’s the exact same thing, except with even worse ideas on steroids, and they give you a day to vote on it and say that's a goodwill leaf, well, only in Washington would that be perceived as that. So we have to get a little more common sense going with congress. I'm hoping we can do that. But right now, I think we're going to have to see where the Democratic budget goes, and hopefully that will force people to sit down and talk. But it's unfortunate. One of the few things I'm seeing as a freshman member that I wish was quite different.

Frederica Freyberg:

Congressman Mark Pocan, thank you.


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