Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Real Republican Roadmap to Balancing the Budget

Paul Ryan, Republican congressman from Wisconsin and ranking member of the House Budget Committee, has introduced "A Roadmap for America's Future", his alternative budget proposal.  But unlike most other republican proposals, his actually balances the budget.  It does so mainly via steep cuts in social programs, namely a massive cap on Medicare spending.

The basic idea is to give seniors a voucher, which they can then use to purchase health care on the private market.  The way this cuts costs is that this voucher will be substantially lower than what what Medicare currently covers.  Although the program doesn't go into effect until 2020, the annual cost adjustment is far below expected actual increases in health care costs.  What is more, the age of retirement coverage will have risen, further limiting coverage.  What it all amounts to is massively rationing health care for seniors.

The amazing thing about the plan is its intellectual honesty.  It takes a philosophy of limited government - low taxes, low spending - and actually proposes implementing it.  The problem most Republicans face is that their rhetoric has over-reached their policy recommendations.   During the Bush years, tax cuts were made, yet without the painful cuts in spending that would pay for them. 

Republicans, now in the minority, and facing record deficits, seem to have rediscovered fiscal discipline.  Yet to complain about the deficit without proposing steps to actually balance it, is intellectually dishonest.  The ease with which this incongruent rhetoric is employed likely explains much of their current low approval rating.

Interestingly, the Tea Party movement seems to be tremendously popular.  Its main thesis would be very approving of the Ryan proposal.  Yet much of its rhetoric is even more extreme, if somewhat incoherent.  Aside from the demagoguery of Obama, a main theme seems to be the detestation of any form of socialism in government.  This has been largely directed at government involvement in health care - even if many of the Tea Partiers seem to be very attached to their medicare.  But one wonders how far the logic might really extend.  Public schools?  Libraries?  Ostensibly the objection might solely lie with federal government.  But how would state spending on social services be any different.  The same philosophical deference to individualism and markets would seem to apply.

To the extent that republican policy proposals have not adequately matched their rhetoric, they have been difficult to take seriously.  The Ryan plan is honest, and logically consistent.  That its Medicare provisions would not really begin taking effect for 10 years likely reflects the political impracticality of its acceptance.  But at least it is something with which to reasonably debate.

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