Ryan’s Obamacare 'Repeal' Fails the Laugh Test—And the Cry Test

So will the media still insist on taking him seriously?

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Paul Ryan releases his budget plan today and the rollout and coverage of the document and its author represent a test for both Ryan and the media. I'm speaking specifically of its provisions regarding repealing Obamacare—or more precisely "repealing" Obamacare.

The test for Ryan is the extent to which his reputation as a straight-shooting budget wonk survived the ill-fated Romney campaign. Longtime Ryan observers know that that standing was more contrivance than reality (he cast a string of budget-busting votes during the Bush years before finding his inner fiscal warrior when a Democrat was in the White House, and his budgets have been less intellectually honest than advertised), but its durability showed it to be impervious to reality.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Paul Ryan.]

So the question now is whether that disconnect will endure? Because even before it's fully unveiled Ryan's budget fails both the laugh test and the cry test—both, as I said, regarding its treatment of the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare.

The laugh test regards the fundamental premise that Ryan's budget anticipates the law's repeal. Agree or disagree with the idea of repealing the law, you have to admit that it's about as likely as Mitt Romney signing any bills into law any time soon.

National Journal's Jill Lawrence wrote an article yesterday looking at the political logistics of repeal, and they're daunting, to put it mildly.

For the health-care law to be repealed before 2017, you'd have to believe that either Obama would, lamb-like, accept repeal of his signature domestic accomplishment, or that Republicans in 2014 would somehow win veto-proof two-thirds majorities in the House (290 votes if all 435 representatives are present, 58 more seats than the GOP held as of mid-March) and the Senate (67 votes, which would require a net gain of 22 seats).

For repeal to be feasible in 2017, a Republican would have to win the White House in 2016; Republicans would need to hold their House majority, and Republicans would need a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (15 more than they have now).

[ See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

That latter scenario, Lawrence notes, also doesn't take into account the day to day reality of the law in 2017—the practical problems of unwinding a system that will have become entrenched as people use it to get health coverage and so forth.

"The continuing assumption that Obamacare will be repealed, even with Obama reinstalled in the White House, is just one more factor that makes Ryan's budget more wishful than credible," Lawrence concludes. That's putting it politely. The fact is that if we're to take Ryan and his budget seriously, it should be grounded in reality, not in the wishful thinking of the right wing.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

But Ryan's Obamacare repeal also fails the cry test for being so intellectually dishonest as to make a noncynical citizen weep. You see Ryan's repeal of Obamacare isn't actually a full repeal of Obamacare. As the Washington Post 's Ezra Klein points out, "Ryan's version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance." So the $716 billion which Obamacare cut from Medicare and which Ryan and running mate Mitt Romney campaigned so hard against last year? Those cuts are in Ryan's budget … just like they were in his previous budgets. He was, as TPM's Sahil Kapur points out, against those cuts before he was for them before he was against them before he was for them. Or something.

As the Washington Post 's Jonathan Bernstein notes, "This is no garden-variety flip-flop. It's a fundamental decision to govern one way and campaign the exact opposite way." It's breathtaking, really.

And the governance/campaigning dichotomy is the more striking for the results of the campaign. You would think that after losing a race that the GOP insisted was a grand philosophical showdown, Republicans would attempt some sort of course correction other than reverting to their we say we hate it, but we're happy to use it stance on Medicare cuts. Voters disapprove of both the party and its policies, and Ryan's response is more of the same. To paraphrase his least favorite philosopher, his budgets seem to repeat themselves, first as tragedy, then as farce.

The question remains whether Ryan will be called on it in news reporting or whether he will reclaim his reputation as honest-green-eye-shade guy. Stay tuned.


Corrected on 3/12/13: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly identified the publication for which Jill Lawrence writes. She works for National Journal.