Paul Ryan: Don't Ask Me for Details

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By Francis Wilkinson

With the vice presidential debate set for tonight, the Romney-Ryan tax plan will probably get another poke or two. Democratic partisans no doubt hope that Joe Biden will succeed where the somnambulant Barack Obama failed.

Despite the president's drowsy inquisition last week, Mitt Romney avoided identifying the elusive Higgs Boson of his fiscal policy: the magic asterisk that will enable Romney to cut tax rates by 20 percent and balance the budget without leaving the U.S. government gutted and filleted on the banks of the Potomac. (Romney not only sidestepped the essential question, he practically denied ever having heard of his tax plan. For an analysis of the missing math, read this Josh Barro post.)

Now it's Paul Ryan's turn. When he came to Bloomberg View for an editorial meeting on April 10 (here's the full transcript) Ryan made a telling point about the relationship between campaigning and governing: It would be "disingenuous and dishonest" he said, not to explain to voters in a campaign what you intend to do after the election. Ryan was speaking specifically in the context of a lame duck Congress. But his emphasis on an informed electorate was undeniable.  "I just don't think that's good governing," he said.

Apparently that logic doesn't apply to the need to reveal details of a fundamental fiscal overhaul with huge implications for the size and purpose of government and the nature of the social contract.

Steven Rattner, who attended the View meeting, questioned Ryan on what deductions and loopholes would have to be eliminated to make his own budget plan work. (The exchange, which you can find in the transcript, is quite lengthy.) Ryan here shows that when it comes to nailing down the details, he and Romney present a unified wall of Jell-O.

QUESTION: Let me ask this question this way. And I’m sorry to interrupt you, but maybe just in the interest of time it’s a couple quick questions. What do you -- how much revenue do you think Ways and Means has to find by closing loopholes to offset the lowering of rates that you’re proposing?

RYAN: Their job is to target the current revenue base line, which gets -- which gravitates between 18 and 19 percent of GDP over the 10-year window.

QUESTION: But in trillions of dollars, what do you think that means?

RYAN: It means keep revenues where they are today. I’m not saying -- it’s not -- we’re not cutting revenues. We’re placing the current revenue stream with a different tax code.

QUESTION: I understand that, but to lower rates from today’s rates to your 10 and 25 is going to cost revenues in the first instance, relative --

RYAN: On the current base, that’s right. So you have to offset it with base broadening.

QUESTION: And how much do you think -- how much do you think you need to offset that?

RYAN: I don’t know the answer to that question. I haven’t seen the score.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Oct/11/2012 16:56 GMT