Harry Cat - a thoughtful, left-of-center reader from Maine - has asked for an opinion on the proposals by Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, for fixing the massive federal deficits. The boyish, geekish Wisconsinite gained national attention at the February health care summit by showing that the Republicans have plenty of ideas to reduce costs and that the Democrats' "budget neutral" claim for their proposed coverage expansion is a fraud. But, Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future", delivered in late January as a counter to Obama's budget, covers the whole waterfront - using figures from the Congressional Budget Office, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the liberal Brookings Institution to document the implications of current and projected unsustainable spending. He talks eloquently of a tipping point toward a culture of dependency and decline, and lays out a set of specific, quantified recommendations.
On Health care - use specific tax code and Medicare changes to move to a system where the individual (rather than the employer or government) has an account to contract for services as they see fit. (To me, this is the essence of the health care solution - an informed consumer making choices that he helps pay for.)
On Social Security - establish partial personal investment accounts for people under 55; gradually extend the retirement age until 70. (Agree on the latter; some reservations about the first.)
On tax policy - radically simplify the personal tax code with two levels and few deductions; eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, capital gains tax, and dividend taxes; change businesses to a "value added" form of taxation. (Agree, except that I would keep the capital gains and dividends taxes.)
On job training - consolidate government programs. (No opinion.)
On the budget process - add meaningful focus on large entitlement programs; create a binding cap on total spending as a per cent of GDP; require a three-fifths House and Senate vote to increase taxes. (Agree that we need to build a national consensus on limits, and they are the only saving grace in California. However, acceptance is unlikely.)
This is "hope and change" with the specifics. Some (the job training section) seems like platitudes, some (binding budget constraints) is politically not possible, and Ryan avoids talk of realistic tax increases (such as extending the Social Security tax to all income). But he does add an intellectual, quantified, credible voice for restraint of government spending and growth to complement the populist man-on-the-street wisdom of the Tea Party crowd. And for Republican candidates looking for ideas to run on, he offers a banquet.
In a wide-open Republican party, Ryan is a breath of fresh air - kind of a Mitt Romney without the baggage (Massachusetts health care; tough venture capital background; Mormon religion). At 41 he lacks experience, and will undoubtedly be the target of a legion of private investigators - but some form of his ideas will be prominent in the country's efforts to recover from the Obama hangover.
This week's video is a short clip of Congressman Ryan asking Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner why the president's budget includes unending trillion dollar deficits and punts the problem to a powerless Fiscal Commission.
bill bowen - 3/19/2010