House Speaker Paul Ryan's legacy can be summed up in just one number: $343 billion. That's the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018 -- that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.

... now, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps -- including me -- that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump.


The first [betrayal] is the 2017 tax cut Ryan passed but didn't pay for. His defenders note that early drafts of the tax cut bill included a border adjustment tax that would've made the package revenue-neutral, fulfilling Ryan's promises. But that policy fell out of the legislation early on, and rather than replace it, Ryan pushed a plan that added $1.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years, and used accounting gimmicks to hide vastly larger increases tucked into the legislation's long-term design. Now House Republicans, still under Ryan's leadership, are agitating to make the tax cuts permanent, with a 20-year cost estimated at $4 trillion.


The second is the spending Ryan passed but didn't pay for. Years of fiscal irresponsibility have sometimes permitted Republicans to be graded on a curve, where tax cuts can be charged to the national credit card and spending cuts are the true measure of policy steel. But even on this diminished measure, Ryan's record betrayed his promises.


The third is the expansion of the earned income tax credit Ryan proposed but never even tried to pass. After the 2010 election, he went on a much-vaunted tour of American poverty, racking up positive press for expanding the boundaries of the possible under conservatism, and arguing for an enlarged EITC that would help childless adults.


"When we tried to get it into a negotiation, he refused," says Jason Furman, who served as Obama's chief economist. "It wasn't in his tax plan. In $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, he somehow couldn't find space for this $60 billion item. It's just amazing."

... In important ways, Trump is not a break from the Republican Party's recent past but an acceleration of it. A party that acculturates itself, its base, and its media sphere to constant nonsense can hardly complain when other political entrepreneurs notice that nonsense sells and decide to begin marketing their own brand of flimflam.

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