Politico’s Unfair Slam on Paul Ryan—He’s Always Been Incredibly Vague

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in Westlake, Ohio, on Sept. 4

Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images.

M.J. Lee in Politico attacks “budget wonk” Paul Ryan on the grounds that his stump speeches about debt and the budget are totally devoid of specifics:

On the trail, the way the Wisconsin lawmaker speaks broadly about the need to cut spending and rein in the national debt stands in in stark contrast to how the congressman crunches numbers with ease in presentations on Capitol Hill, sometimes with the help of a graph or a chart. He is known as an unapologetic truth-teller, bearing fiscal bad news with political confidence that has helped elevate him into a conservative hero.


But on the national campaign trail where the risk is much greater, Ryan’s rhetoric has been fuzzier.

I think this is unfair—Ryan’s always been vague. There’s absolutely nothing new in his campaign rhetoric. If you look at the various iterations of his budget, by far the biggest savings occur by simply stipulating the non-Medicare, non-Medicaid, non-Social Security, nonmilitary spending will shrink to its tiniest level ever. He doesn’t say anything about what that will look like. He doesn’t say how regulatory agencies will be staffed (or not staffed), what programs will be eliminated (or not eliminated), or in general what America will look like if the federal government makes a radical change in its commitment to nonmilitary, nonhealth spending.

His Medicaid program is the same. He wants to “block grant” the program so that states have more flexibility and then just … spend way less money. What’s that going to look like? He doesn’t say. His rhetoric implies that somehow the magic of block granting will make this work, but the reality is that it means a bunch of people who currently get health care or nursing home care covered won’t get it. But Ryan never gets into the weeds of how his new, stingier plan will work.