The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, February 12, 2010


It’s amusing to listen to President Obama suggest that his opposition is the “party of no,” that it has no solid ideas and that “obstructionism” is their raison d’etre. It’s a meme that has resonated within the mainstream media that presents it without critical analysis, refutation, or logic analysis. It seems that the President is good at talking about “bipartisanship” but not very good at doing it. And of course, it’s all the other guy’s fault.

For the past two years, the MSM has chosen to ignore the ideas suggested by Paul Ryan, a six-term Republican congressman from Wisconsin. Ryan, unlike many Democrat and Republican members, has crafted workable solutions to our most pressing deficit and spending problems. If the President were serious about a bipartisan effort to solve these problems (and I am not convinced he is), Ryan’s ideas might be the place to start. It’s interesting to note that President Obama did, in fact, mention Ryan’s proposals recently. He did so, I think, merely to set up Ryan for coordinated attacks by everyone from Nancy Pelosi to the President’s own budget director. Discrediting Ryan from the get-go seems to be the administration’s strategy while President Obama soars above the fray.

But Obama's covert attack on a set of good ideas won’t make budget and deficit problems go away. Robert Samuelson comments:
[The Problem] hasn't [been fixed] because our political culture is so wedded to public opinion that it can't (or won't) govern. To govern is to choose, and our leaders recoil from unpopular choices. Americans want generous benefits and low taxes, so that's what the system -- led by either Democrats or Republicans -- provides.

President Obama continues this tradition. His administration's long-term budget projections show skyrocketing debt. In 2008, federal debt held by the public equaled 40 percent of the economy (gross domestic product). The administration has it rising to 77 percent of GDP in 2020, 99 percent in 2030 and 218 percent in 2050.

In reality, not choosing is a choice: to govern by crisis. Someday, the debt and associated interest payments (projected at $840 billion in 2020, a seventh of federal spending) may trigger a financial backlash. Lenders won't lend or will demand much higher rates. Congress would then be forced to cut benefits or raise taxes. The unstated hope is that the crisis occurs on someone else's watch.
Ryan rejects this consensus. He would make choices now.

It seems that the current administration and the majority party leadership in Congress are hoping against hope that they can continue to kick the can down the road. But it’s much worse than that.

Like children playing make-believe, they’ve convinced themselves that a 1 trillion dollar healthcare entitlement will somehow reduce the deficit; that a 700 billion dollar stimulus should be followed by a 100 billion dollar “jobs bill,” even though neither will create any meaningful number of private sector jobs; that big government doesn't come without worrisome costs; that a cap and trade bill predicated on questionable science will somehow spur the economy forward, and that unbridled deficit spending on dozens of new federal programs will occur without consequences.

Their delusional thinking in the face of serious economic problems is one of the reasons that those of us in the Center have deserted them in droves.

Like the children they are, the majority party is throwing a tantrum when a grown-up suggests a little discipline. They stomp their feet and scream “that’s not fair.” As Samuelson notes, leadership and governance is making grown-up choices, and choices are often “not fair.” But that doesn’t mean that the choices shouldn’t be made.

What are those choices? Here’s how Robert Samuelson describes what what one grown-up—Paul Ryan—thinks:
-- Social Security: For those 55 or older today, the program would remain unchanged. For those younger, benefits would be reduced -- with no cuts for the poorest workers. Workers 55 or younger in 2011 could establish individual investment accounts that would be funded with part of their payroll taxes. Government would guarantee a return equal to inflation.

-- Medicare: Current recipients and those enrolling in the next decade would continue under today's program, though wealthier recipients would pay somewhat higher premiums. In 2021, Medicare would become a voucher program for new recipients (those today 54 or younger). With vouchers, recipients would buy Medicare-certified private insurance. In today's dollars, the vouchers would ultimately grow to $11,000. Eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security would slowly increase toward 69 and 70, respectively.

-- Spending Freeze: From 2010 to 2019, "non-defense discretionary spending" -- about a sixth of the federal budget, including everything from housing to parks to education -- would be frozen at 2009 levels.

-- Simpler Taxes: Taxpayers could choose between today's system or a streamlined replacement with no deductions and virtually no special tax breaks. Above a tax-free amount ($39,000 for a family of four), taxpayers would pay only two rates: 10 percent up to $100,000 for joint filers and 25 percent on income more than that.

Of course, the leadership in congress and the administration will only respond by noting all of the reasons Ryan’s proposals won’t work. They would prefer to waste a year writing a 2,000 page, 1 trillion dollar healthcare bill that will, in their fantasy world, lead to social justice, less spending, and lower deficits (not to mention lots of giveaways for their core constituencies). Sadly, in the world of grown-ups, those conclusions are nothing more than delusional.