While the president may be showing signs of cracking.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has come up with a two-step plan aimed at lifting the debt ceiling, and then opening the government long enough to pass meaningful entitlement reforms. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee insisted that "both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country's entitlement programs and tax code."
Ryan formally presented his idea at a meeting Wednesday afternoon with the conservative Republican Study Committee. He presented a plan that was ostensibly more detailed than what he outlined in the Journal, but those are the only details currently available. In his op-ed, Ryan said he believed "most of us agree that gradual, structural reforms are better than sudden, arbitrary cuts."
He went on to explain why such reforms are vital, noting that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates for spending over the next 10 years reveal how much more important it is to get mandatory spending under control than discretionary spending. Discretionary spending, which consists of everything other than debt service and entitlement programs, will increase by $202 billion, or roughly 17 percent over the next decade. By contrast, mandatory spending, which consists mostly of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security funding will skyrocket by an additional $1.6 trillion or roughly 79 percent.
Ryan notes that it is not impossible to reach a bipartisan consensus on an entitlement program, citing the historical agreement reached in 1983. Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neill came up with a plan to save Social Security after the plan's trustees warned that it was headed for bankruptcy. By raising the payroll tax, phasing in an increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67, requiring government employees to contribute to the system, and delaying a cost of living increase for six months, the agreement extended the fund's solvency for an additional two generations.
According to Ryan, these changes didn't save any money for the first five years. But after that, the savings were significant, reaching $100 billion through 2012, and as much as $4.6 trillion over the next 75 years.
Ryan's "conversation starter" for the current impasse includes asking wealthier Americans to pay higher premiums for Medicare, reforming Medigap plans by incentivizing efficiency and reducing costs, and having federal employees make greater contributions to their own retirement packages.
He envisions additional funding for programs coming from "pro-growth" reforms "that put people back to work." These include the development of America's "vast energy reserves," and bipartisan tax code reform based on efforts undertaken by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT). As of September, the Camp–Baucus plan has apparently reached some consensus with regard to corporate tax reform. But the two chairmen of the Congressional tax-writing committees both say that such reform will not proceed unless they can build a consensus for reframing tax laws that affect individual Americans.
Ryan explains his plan isn't a "grand bargain," insisting that Congress needs to undertake a "complete rethinking of government's approach to helping the most vulnerable, and a complete rethinking of government's approach to health care." But for now, he believes it is more important to open the government, pay our bills, and find a way to make sure we can pay them in the future. "All it takes is leadership—and for the president to come to the table," Ryan concludes.
Conspicuously missing from Ryan's plan is any mention of the healthcare bill. That omission didn't sit well with several Republicans. Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham was intransigent. "The only acceptable way out of this is some sort of deal that funds the federal government without funding ObamaCare," he insisted. Amanda Carpenter, the senior communications adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) echoed that sentiment. "There is one big word missing from this op-ed. It starts with an O and ends with BAMACARE," she tweeted. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat had a far more pertinent tweet, which he addressed to National Review editor Robert Costa. "Who is Paul Ryan speaking for in his WSJ op-ed?" he wondered.
Apparently it wasn't those who attended the Republican Study Committee meeting, many of whom seemed less than thrilled by Ryan's ideas. “Somebody needs to convince me why we need to raise the debt ceiling,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). “This would not be without some agreement already reached,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), explaining that Ryan's plan to concede a short-term increase in the debt ceiling would not be "clean." “It would only give us time to go through the order necessary to get the agreed-upon goals through a conference committee.” Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) said that he and his colleagues "aren’t going to solve the long-term challenges in a week.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who revealed that Ryan had defended downplaying ObamaCare at the meeting, was apparently put off as well. “When you’re talking about continuing to have the largest deficits in our history, how could you not talk about the biggest deficit driver that we have ever had?” he wondered.
That may be the MHC's definition of privacy, but one suspects the possibility of having one’s health records examined by government officials, or used as part of an IRS audit, might have Marylanders believing otherwise.
In Illinois, residents were warned by the State's Department of Insurance that fraud and identity theft could become a problem due to the emergence of phony healthcare navigators. “We have been made aware that scams are possible,” said Kimberly Parker, a Department of Insurance spokesperson. “If someone is at your door, err on the side of caution.” They also warned people not to give out personal information via “unsolicited telephone calls of any kind.”
Such efforts may be quixotic at best. In 2012, there were 13,000 identity thefts in Illinois, 40 percent of which involved “government documents or benefits fraud.”
Since Americans are being forced to buy insurance at these marketplaces, that number could increase exponentially.
And, as has been the case since its launch nine days ago, the online rollout of ObamaCare continues to frustrate Americans. Millions are attempting to navigate a poorly designed, prematurely introduced system aimed at signing up people for insurance that even ObamaCare supporters have discovered could be far more expensive that advertised. Californian Cindy Vinson, whose new individual insurance policy will cost an additional $1800, epitomized the mindset of many of those supporters. "Of course, I want people to have health care," she said. "I just didn't realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally."
What every American is currently paying for is the unseemly intransigence of a president who steadfastly refuses to negotiate anything. On Tuesday, Obama called House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to reiterate his refusal to bargain. The same day he contended that he’s fighting the budget battle because “we can’t make extortion routine as part of our democracy.” At a White House press conference, he upped the ante. "The greatest nation on earth shouldn't have to get permission from a few irresponsible members of Congress every couple months just to keep our government open or to prevent an economic catastrophe," he contended. Yesterday, he reportedly pushed the envelope one more time, telling House Democrats he would negotiate with Republicans but “not with a gun at my head.”
Thus, Republicans are expected to negotiate with a president who has characterized them as irresponsible, gun-toting extortionists determined to bring the nation to economic catastrophe. That’s quite the “ice-breaker.”
Perhaps the nation is slowly catching on. While Republicans still get the most of the blame for the shutdown--a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the GOP's handling of budget negotiations, compared to 61 percent for Democrats--the president is also getting a thumbs down from 51 percent of Americans. Moreover, his approval rating has sunk to 37 percent, and 52 percent of Americans said the president isn't doing enough to cooperate with Republicans in ending the shutdown.
Perhaps Obama is catching on. Late Wednesday, he invited Republicans to White House meeting on Thursday. "It is our hope that this will be a constructive meeting and that the president finally recognizes Americans expect their leaders to be able to sit down and resolve their differences,’’ said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. Maybe it will be, but the odds aren’t good. Stay tuned.
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