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Is Ryan really a fiscal conservative?

Yes, but only under the secret new meaning of the term

Writing for the Washington Post, Matt Miller complains that the media is mischaracterizing Ryanism (as in the fiscal ideas of new Repub veepstakes winner Rep. Paul Ryan). Ryan is no fiscal conservative and no deficit hawk, Miller argues.

He’s right, unless you adopt the new (but not really so new) meaning of the term “fiscal conservative” that has come unofficially into style since Pres. Reagan.

Pre-Reagan, the term “fiscal conservative” referred to those who wanted to balance the budget or at least hold down the accumulation of debt. Since Reagan, “fiscal conservatives” are those who always favor tax cuts, and the cuts generally turn out to make the tax code less progressive. This fits Ryan and Romney both. They have lots of idea for reducing government spending, especially on programs that benefit the poor, the elderly and the sick. (The one exception is military spending — which I personally try to avoid calling “defense” spending since the United States maintains a military establishment far far far in excess of anything that could reasonably be called necessary to defend the country from any real threat to “national security” as that term would be defined by any other more normal country.) The Ryan budget plan cuts pretty much every government function except military.

If you made those cuts and left the tax code alone, you would shrink the deficit reasonably steadily and eventually get to balance. If, instead of leaving the tax code alone, you phased in some small increases in top tax rates, or eliminated some loopholes and deductions, or both, you could get to a surplus and actually start to pay down the debt that conservatives are always complaining about.

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But that’s not what the modern “fiscal conservatives” do. They always pair their spending cuts on programs that help the poor with tax cuts that help the rich, which is what the Ryan plan and apparently the Romney plan do. (I say “apparently” because Romney has only put out a general description of his taxing and spending ideas.)