Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A serious man (David Brooks on Paul Ryan)

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has been one of my favorite Republicans for a while. He was one of the only Republican congressmen to offer constructive alternatives to Obama's health care reform instead of simply being against whatever the president proposed. He understood that our current system is broken, notwithstanding clichés about us having the "best health care system the world has ever known." Now he's stepped out on a limb and offered a serious proposal to fix the systemic problems driving our deficit and debt. I think David Brooks is right that this is "the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes." Ryan understands that defunding NPR (silly!) and Planned Parenthood (about time!) plays well with the base, but doesn't address the real problem. Here's more from Brooks' column:

The Ryan budget will put all future arguments in the proper context: The current welfare state is simply unsustainable and anybody who is serious, on left or right, has to have a new vision of the social contract.

The initial coverage will talk about Ryan’s top number — the cuts of more than $4 trillion over the next decade. But the important thing is the way Ryan would reform programs. He would reform the tax code along the Simpson-Bowles lines, but without the tax increases. (It’s amazing that a budget chairman could include tax policy in his proposal, since it’s normally under the purview of the Ways and Means Committee.)

The Ryan budget doesn’t touch Medicare for anybody over 55, but for younger people it turns it into a defined contribution plan. Instead of assuming open-ended future costs, the government will give you a sum of money (starting at an amount equal to what the government now spends) and a regulated menu of insurance options from which to choose.

The Ryan budget will please governors of both parties by turning Medicaid into a block grant — giving states more flexibility. It tackles agriculture subsidies and other corporate welfare. It consolidates the job-training programs into a single adult scholarship. It reforms housing assistance and food stamps. It dodges Social Security. The Republicans still have no alternative to the Democratic health care reform, but this budget tackles just about every politically risky issue with brio and guts.

Ryan was a protégé of Jack Kemp, and Kemp’s uplifting spirit pervades the document. It’s not sour, taking an austere meat ax approach. It emphasizes social support, social mobility and personal choice. I don’t agree with all of it that I’ve seen, but it is a serious effort to create a sustainable welfare state — to prevent the sort of disruptive change we’re going to face if national bankruptcy comes.

It also creates the pivotal moment of truth for President Obama. Will he come up with his own counterproposal, or will he simply demagogue the issue by railing against “savage” Republican cuts and ignoring the long-term fiscal realities? Does he have a sustainable vision for government, or will he just try to rise above the fray while Nancy Pelosi and others attack Ryan?

And what about the Senate Republicans? Where do they stand? Or the voters? Are they willing to face reality or will they continue to demand more government than they are willing to pay for?

Paul Ryan has grasped reality with both hands. He’s forcing everybody else to do the same.

As one of those "younger people" who's probably going to get hosed in any entitlement reform I have some concerns, but I respect that Ryan's backing up his talk with action.

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