Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, head of the House Budget committee, released his committee's 2015 budget proposal on Tuesday, including the most recent entry in his long-standing series of scary federal debt graphs. Those graphs alone tell a great deal of the story about Ryan's evolution from back-bench numbers cruncher to media-savvy Capitol Hill "wonk" — and about how little his plans have changed over the past six years.


2009

We'll start with the 2009 version of the graph (depicting projections starting with the 2010 budget), and introduce a few of the key measures that we'll look at.

This graph was made when the Republicans were still the minority party, and, apparently, when they were still figuring out Microsoft Excel. It compares how public debt will fare as a percentage of the gross domestic product under two scenarios. The first is the Obama budget, always shown in ("stop!") red. The other is the Republican alternative, shown in ("go!") green. Here, it's called "Republican alternative." That will change.

Scale of the graph: 2008 to 2019
Vertical-axis: 40 to 85 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Republican budget at end of graph: 65 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Obama budget at end of graph: 83 percent


2010

By 2010, the Republicans had decided to put a little more "oomph" into their proposal. They made a website, the Roadmap for America's Future, including the nifty animation above. (By the end of the year, the Republicans had secured a majority in the House; if you watch the animation closely, you can see the description of Ryan change from "ranking member" to "chairman" as it pops up.) The year's graph reflected the new branding.

Scale of the graph: 1941 to 2080
Vertical-axis: -50 to 300 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Republican budget at end of graph: -20 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Obama budget at end of graph: literally off the charts

First, notice the inclusion of the "historical" data. The Obama budget depicted includes Obamacare spending; the bill was signed into law in March of 2010. By including the historical data, Ryan can better argue that Obama's debt plan is beyond any previous comparison. And, of course, his counter is labeled "A Roadmap for America's Future," that will eliminate the debt entirely by 2080 or so. (As the year labeling along the x-axis shows, they were still figuring out Excel.)


2011

The Republicans now control the Budget Committee. For the first time, the scary debt graph uses fills to depict the two possible paths for America; this is now the look we know and love.

Scale of the graph: 1940 to 2080
Vertical-axis: 0 to 900 (!) percent
Debt-to-GDP under Republican budget at end of graph: in the negatives somewhere
Debt-to-GDP under Obama budget at end of graph: 900 percent

This graph is much more pointedly political. The Democratic profligacy ("current path") is given the hard number of 900 percent of GDP, trending upward on a smooth curve. The "Path to Prosperity" has taken over for the short-lived roadmap, a title that remains with us today.

What you want to start paying attention to is the little subtle area partly obscured by the arrow of the "Path to Prosperity" box, the region between about 2010 and 2017. For the next few years, pay attention to how much those lines change. Also note the slope of green line. We'll come back to that.


2012

For the 2013 budget year, Ryan and the Republicans made a little video, extending their political argument. Later in the year, Ryan would be on television even more frequently.

Scale of the graph: 1940 to 2080
Vertical-axis: 0 to 900 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Republican budget at end of graph: in the negatives somewhere
Debt-to-GDP under Obama budget at end of graph: 900 percent

The graph hasn't changed very much. Of course, the Republican-passed budget didn't become law, and repeals to Obama programs weren't enacted either. The only change in the chart is that the green Republican area just sort of dipped down a little bit.


2013

Last year's chart, for fiscal year 2014.

Scale of the graph: 1940 to 2080
Vertical-axis: 0 to 900 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Republican budget by 2050: Zero
Debt-to-GDP under Obama budget by 2050: 350 percent or so

So they figured out the bevel tool. "World War II" is no longer labeled, but the comparison is generally the same. The 2010 - 2015 time shows that the two paths are mostly the same (unlike the previous year's chart), but then the green path begins its slow taper to zero.


2014: The new graph

And that won't do.

Scale of the graph: 1940 to 2040
Vertical-axis: 0 to 200 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Republican budget by 2040: 20 percent
Debt-to-GDP under Obama budget by 2040: 180 percent

By now the graph is very refined. "World War II" is back, to compare to the "current path." The timeline has been compressed significantly, which means that the decades are compressed, which has the nice effect of making the downward slope of that green line much, much steeper. Notice again that the timeline over the next few years is the same under both paths.

In that way, it's pretty similar to that first graph from 2009. Just more polished. Media-ready.


Ryan's 2015 budget proposal is similar to previous years' budgets in its other components, too. As Politico outlines, it's heavy on cuts to the social safety net and to Medicare. (Its Medicare cuts, Roll Call's Steven Dennis points out, exceed those under Obamacare.) Ryan had pledged to address poverty; New York's Jonathan Chait explains why that became unfeasible.

If you want to read the full proposal, it is below. The scary debt graph appears right up front. If you miss it, no worries. It will be back next year.