Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Small Ball

Paul Ryan, whose voice has not been heard nearly enough of late, takes to the pages of the WSJ to explain how a compromise on the debt ceiling is possible and what it might entail. Here's How We Can End This Stalemate:

Just as a good investment gets higher returns through compound interest, structural reforms produce greater savings over time. Most important, they make the programs more secure. They protect them for current seniors and preserve them for the next generation. That's what the president and Congress should talk about.

Here are just a few ideas to get the conversation started. We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and reduce costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.

The president has embraced these ideas in budget proposals he has submitted to Congress. And in earlier talks with congressional Republicans, he has discussed combining Medicare's Part A and Part B, so the program will be less confusing for seniors. These ideas have the support of nonpartisan groups like the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and they would strengthen these critical programs. And all of them would help pay down the debt.

We should also enact pro-growth reforms that put people back to work—like opening up America's vast energy reserves to development. There is even some agreement on taxes across the aisle.

Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) have been working for more than a year now on a bipartisan plan to reform the tax code. They agree on the fundamental principles: Broaden the base, lower the rates and simplify the code. The president himself has argued for just such an approach to corporate taxes. So we should discuss how Congress can take up the Camp–Baucus plan when it's ready.

Reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code will spur economic growth—another goal that both parties share. The CBO says stable or declining levels of federal debt would help the economy. In addition, "federal interest payments would be smaller, policy makers would have greater leeway . . . to respond to any economic downturns . . . and the risk of a sudden fiscal crisis would be much smaller."

This isn't a grand bargain. For that, we need a complete rethinking of government's approach to helping the most vulnerable, and a complete rethinking of government's approach to health care. But right now, we need to find common ground. We need to open the federal government. We need to pay our bills today—and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let's negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code.

Ryan’s proposals aren’t exactly all that imaginative or exciting. They’re not going to fire up the conservative base or fundamentally transform the political or fiscal situations we currently face. But they are real and they legitimate areas where compromise between the two parties should be possible. The chances of crafting a “grand bargain” in the current environment are slim to none and odds are that if such a bargain were to be made now it wouldn’t address the real issues anyway. The reforms that Ryan is proposing are small, but they are a start. And they are a way out of the current impasse and the only realistic way other than complete surrender that I’ve seen a Republican propose so far. Something, even something small, is always better than nothing.