By Bill Crawford
Republican budget-master Rep. Paul Ryan emerged from self-imposed obscurity last week, speaking out on the government shutdown and looming default in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal.
His words deserve consideration:
“For example, most of us agree that gradual, structural reforms are better than sudden, arbitrary cuts. For my Democratic colleagues, the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act are a major concern. And the truth is, there’s a better way to cut spending. We could provide relief from the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act in exchange for structural reforms to entitlement programs.”
In other words, sudden, harsh cuts to Food Stamps and education – which account for a piddling amount of the structural budget deficits facing the country – could be eased if long-term changes were made to entitlement programs that account for most of the structural budget deficits in the years to come.
“These reforms are vital,” wrote Ryan. “Over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office predicts discretionary spending—that is, everything except entitlement programs and debt payments—will grow by $202 billion, or roughly 17%. Meanwhile, mandatory spending—which mostly consists of funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—will grow by $1.6 trillion, or roughly 79%. The 2011 Budget Control Act largely ignored entitlement spending. But that is the nation’s biggest challenge.”
Ryan did not propose only cuts to entitlements, but reforms that include new revenues:
“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.”
Missing from Ryan’s op-ed piece were the tools of disruption favored by his ultra-conservative colleagues in the House of Representatives. Continued government shut-down was not championed, nor payment defaults from refusal to raise the debt ceiling, nor more furloughs or sudden cuts to discretionary spending.
Rather he proposed a sensible approach to gradually wean the nation off its dried up spending teat.
He did challenge President Barack Obama to come to the negotiating table:
“He’s refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That’s a shame—because this doesn’t have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough. We have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking, and talking specifics, now. To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.”
Hopefully, Ryan has provided a way out of this mess.
Probably not for one impolitic reader who wrote me, “Who cares if the government is shut-down?”
» Bill Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.