Paul Krugman is as usual excellent on Paul Ryan, but I'm going to disagree with him in part anyway. I'm going to make the case for 3.75%.
Krugman makes the case that two numbers are all you need to know about Paul Ryan. The first, which I agree with completely, is the $4.6 trillion that Ryan would need to find in tax offsets for the tax rate cuts in his budget. Krugman is exactly right: that number lets us know that Ryan's budget is a fraud.
His other number is 14 million, for the people who would lose Medicaid under that House Republican budget. Yes, that's an important number -- and it's probably true that if Mitt Romney is elected and Republicans control Congress that Medicaid will be their main target.
But as much as liberals want to make the case that House Republicans are interested in shutting down the safety net, I don't think that's what's special about Paul Ryan. Shake a stick and you're going to find a Republican who wants to kill off spending that benefits Democratic constituencies.
No, what I think is notable about Ryan is how fraudulent his budgets are. And that's why I'd suggest 3.75 as the second key number. That's the target as a percentage of GDP, under Ryan, for the entire government other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP, by 2050. Since Ryan has separately objected to cuts in the military below 4% of GDP, it means that Ryan would theoretically not be able to meet his own target, even if he shut down student loans, FEMA, NASA and the National Weather Service, the FBI and federal prisons, all immigration enforcement, the FDA and other food safety programs, air traffic control, and more. Including programs for veterans. Veterans!
The problem with Ryan isn't that he's going after poor people; Democrats and Republicans could have an honest debate about where the tax burden should fall and how large the safety net should be. The problem with Ryan is that his numbers -- his $4.6T and his 3.75 -- are just phony. He has no intention of producing $4.6T in revenues, and no intention of shutting down those programs (which, remember, still don't do the trick if he wants to protect military spending from any cuts), but he wants the credit for being serious about deficit reduction. He's not serious. The numbers don't add up. He's peddling a fraud. And that's why $4.6T and 3.75 are all you need to know about Paul Ryan.