Yesterday, I caught Representative Paul Ryan's appearance on the Bill Bennett radio show and was impressed with the comprehensive plan Ryan has laid out to try to restore some fiscal sanity to the federal budget.
Today, Robert Samuelson writes on Paul Ryan's Lonely Challenge:
Ryan rejects this consensus. He would make choices now. Here are some features of his plan:
-- Social Security: For those 55 or older today, the program would remain unchanged. For those younger, benefits would be reduced -- with no cuts for the poorest workers. Workers 55 or younger in 2011 could establish individual investment accounts that would be funded with part of their payroll taxes. Government would guarantee a return equal to inflation.
-- Medicare: Current recipients and those enrolling in the next decade would continue under today's program, though wealthier recipients would pay somewhat higher premiums. In 2021, Medicare would become a voucher program for new recipients (those today 54 or younger). With vouchers, recipients would buy Medicare-certified private insurance. In today's dollars, the vouchers would ultimately grow to $11,000. Eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security would slowly increase toward 69 and 70, respectively.
-- Spending Freeze: From 2010 to 2019, "non-defense discretionary spending" -- about a sixth of the federal budget, including everything from housing to parks to education -- would be frozen at 2009 levels.
-- Simpler Taxes: Taxpayers could choose between today's system or a streamlined replacement with no deductions and virtually no special tax breaks. Above a tax-free amount ($39,000 for a family of four), taxpayers would pay only two rates: 10 percent up to $100,000 for joint filers and 25 percent on income more than that.
Samuelson goes on to note that Ryan's plan is far from perfect. It still wouldn't balance the federal budget until 2063(!!!), which means it doesn't go far enough in raising revenues (read taxes) or cutting spending. But at least he has a plan and a place where we can begin the discussion. Unlike the Democrats:
But the larger point is that Ryan is trying to start a conversation on the desirable role and limits of government. He's trying to make it possible to talk about sensitive issues -- mainly Social Security and Medicare -- without being vilified. President Obama recognized that when he called Ryan's plan a "serious proposal." But since then, Democrats have resorted to ritualistic denunciations of him as pillaging Social Security and Medicare. Legitimate debate becomes impossible. If Democrats don't like Ryan's vision, the proper response is to design and defend their own plan. The fact that they don't have one is a national embarrassment.
What's even more embarrassing is the way that most of the media continues to let President Obama get away with setting up rhetorical strawman--"there are some who say we should do nothing"--and putting on the pretense that there are no alternatives to the course of actions that he and the Democrats support. There are plenty of Republican proposals out there that address the critical problems facing the country. Ryan's plan is by far the most specific and realistic approach to controlling spending and deficits that either party has laid out. Democrats may not agree with it, but it's time they stop pretending that Republicans are nothing more than the party of "no" when in fact they are the ones with nothing to offer.