Bemoaning the legislative stalemate in Washington, President Obama last month publicly rebuked Republicans in a speech from New Hampshire:
“You’ve been sitting on the sidelines criticizing what we’re proposing... You got a better idea bring it on.”
The president has finally got his wish. It comes in the form of the most constructive legislative proposal to emerge from Congress in a long time. Called "A Roadmap for America's Future," it is the brainchild of Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan. The proposal is unusual by Washington's standards: It actually offers real solutions to a pressing problem.
Faced with moribund economy and weighted down with astronomical obligations it cannot make good on, our federal government is slouching toward fiscal disaster. This much is obvious to most observers and politicians alike. The problem is that politicians are loath to do anything about it, because the swamp of federal spending has always been a fertile ground for political fortunes. Paul Ryan's Roadmap bucks this trend and seeks to reverse our disastrous course with a series of commonsense measures. Here are some of the plan's highlights:
- Allowing those under 55 to invest over one-third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, similar to the Thrift Savings Plan available to federal employees;
- Placing future Medicare beneficiaries (those currently under 55) into a semi-private programs similar to those currently used by Members of Congress;
- Reducing the tax code into two rates: 10% on income up to $100,000 for joint filers and $50,000 for single filers, and 25% on taxable income above these amounts;
- Eliminating the alternative minimum and the death tax;
- Doing away with taxes on interest, capital gains and dividends;
- Replacing the corporate tax—currently the second highest in the industrialized world—with a business consumption tax of 8.5%;
- Imposing a 10 year discretionary spending freeze.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that Ryan's plan would accomplish what no other recent proposal could claim to do – it would strengthen the economy and put the government's finances on a sustainable track. Having evaluated the Roadmap, the CBO issued a letter which stated that it would “lower budget deficits” and “result in much less federal debt than under the alternative fiscal scenario and thereby a much more favorable macroeconomic outlook.” The Congressional Budget Office concluded its evaluation as follows:
The Roadmap would put the federal budget on a sustainable path, generating an annual budget surplus of about 5 percent of GDP by 2080... The economy would be considerably stronger under the proposal than it would be under the alternative fiscal scenario. Real gross national product per person would be about 70 percent higher in 2058 under the proposal than under the alternative fiscal scenario.
In his syndicated column, George Will – who is no ferocious partisan – praised Ryan's program as one that successfully “connects three destinations – economic vitality, diminished public debt, and health and retirement security.” Even President Obama himself was forced to admit during his get-together with Republicans in Baltimore that Ryan's proposal constitutes a “detailed” and “legitimate” plan to address our fiscal crisis.
Yet, Ryan's constructive approach is not playing well with Congressional Democrats. Sensing the possibility of scoring political points, they wasted no time launching a salvo of vicious attacks. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the House Democrats' reelection committee, had this to say of Ryan's plan: “Put it this way. For seniors on Medicare, it's a dead end." In case you missed it, the pun is not incidental. Van Hollen really meant to imply that Ryan's plan would be the death sentence for seniors.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fired from both barrels when she described the Roadmap as a scheme that “provides tax breaks for the wealthy, it ends Medicare as we know it, and privatizes Social Security. Here they go again. Rehashing the same failed Bush policies." Pelosi was deftly seconded by House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson who chimed in with the following: "They are dusting off their old playbook, rehashing the policies that the American people have rejected in the past. They want to privatize Social Security. They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program. And they're providing tax breaks for the wealthy while they raise taxes on the middle class." Never one to mince words, Democrat guru and strategist Paul Begala scoffed: “They have ideas, and lots of them. And their ideas ruin the country."
Killing seniors and “ruining the country” just about delineate Democrats' discussion parameters when it comes to Ryan's plan. So vicious and intense has their assault been that that now even Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Ryan’s plan. Last week, the Washington Post gleefully reported that “even Ryan's fellow GOP colleagues will not endorse his plan.” When asked about it, House Minority Leader John Boehner disclaimed any responsibility for the contents of Ryan’s plan, insisting that "it's his."
Despite assaults from the Left and the lack of reinforcements from his own side, the embattled Ryan is sticking to his guns. He has gone so far as to say that he is willing to fight for his cause and lose his job if it means ending the deficit. "The Democratic attack machine is in full throttle," he said in a recent interview with the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "It's sad but predictable."
And this brings us to the moral bankruptcy of Washington, DC. Overspending and saddled with obligations it cannot pay, our government is quickly approaching fiscal Armageddon. Our politicians, however, refuse to do anything about it, because it would mean that they would have to start behaving responsibly and stop buying votes with money they do not have. Then along comes one man who proposes meaningful, common-sense measures to avert the impending calamity. For this he gets vilified to the point that even the leadership of his own party, the party that claims to stand for fiscal responsibility, runs away from him in fear.
Given that we are on the brink, this situation is hardly tolerable. Take Medicare, for example. Its unfunded obligations are estimated by some to be in excess of $80 trillion. This is more than five times the current amount of our national debt. Even if the estimate is wrong by a half, this program by itself will still bankrupt our federal government. If we want to survive fiscally, something must be done, which is exactly what Paul Ryan is trying to do. And yet he is being brutally savaged, while those who defend this fiscal black hole posture as defenders of the people.
Several Democrats have charged that Ryan's proposal will end Medicare as we know it. First of all, the charge is disingenuous, since anyone 55 years old or above will continue with the program. Given today's life expectancy, we are talking about at least four more decades of the program's continuance. But here is an even larger question: Why should ending Medicare be a bad thing? From whichever angle we look at it, Medicare has been a disaster. Ending it would be a good thing. In fact, America cannot prosper financially while Medicare continues in its present form.
Especially glaring is the fact that Democrats do not engage Ryan's plan on its substance. The fact that his is the only proposal around that would alleviate our fiscal strain is of no concern to them. Instead they use fear-mongering and demagoguery to destroy and revile the man who at least attempts to do something about this country's desperate straits. Given our dire situation, even Ryan's plan may be the case of too little too late. But it is without question a step in the right direction and as such deserves serious attention from those who hold this nation's purse strings.
Democrats will defend the status quo, because they think that by doing so they will make political hay. They obviously value electoral gain more than the price that will have to be paid. That price is America's bankruptcy. And woe to anyone who attempts to do something about it. Reviled and abused, Paul Ryan is learning this lesson the hard way.