Paul Ryan's budget proposal is brave, radical, and smart
For the past 30 years, Republicans have been hypocrites about spending. They've raged against big government without ever proposing the kinds of cuts necessary to bring federal expenditures in line with tax revenues. Democrats have been more fiscally responsible, producing an actual budget surplus during Bill Clinton's second term. But they've been little better than Republicans when it comes to confronting the nation's long-term fiscal imbalance, which is driven by the projected growth in entitlement spending.
This dynamic of political evasion and reality-denial may have undergone a fundamental shift today with the release of Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget resolution. The Wisconsin Republican's genuinely radical plan goes where Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich never did by terminating the entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid. (It doesn't touch the third major entitlement, Social Security, though Ryan has elsewhere argued for extending its life by gradually raising the retirement age to 70.) Ryan changes Medicare into a voucher, which would be used to purchase private health insurance. He turns Medicaid into a block grant for states to spend as they choose. Though his budget committee isn't responsible for taxes, Ryan includes the boldest tax reform proposal since the 1980s, proposing to lower top individual and corporate rates to 25 percent and end deductions. While he's at it, Ryan caps domestic spending, repeals Obamacare, slashes farm subsidies, and more.
If the GOP gets behind his proposals in a serious way, it will become for the first time in modern memory an intellectually serious party—one with a coherent vision to match its rhetoric of limited government. Democrats are within their rights to point out the negative effects of Ryan's proposed cuts on future retirees, working families, and the poor. He was not specific about many of his cuts, and Democrats have a political opportunity in filling in the blanks. But the ball is now in their court, and it will be hard to take them seriously if they don't respond with their own alternative path to debt reduction and long-term solvency. ...