You may have heard lately that Rep. Paul Ryan is kind of a big deal.
Our Congressman is getting major national play as the Republican Party's leader on federal budget issues. Ryan wrote a budget proposal that was embraced by conservatives as a bold step toward eliminating deficits and reshaping some fundamental government programs. President Obama even called his plan a "serious" proposal.
Here comes the backlash. While Ryan's budget was introduced with great fanfare, Democrats are sinking their teeth into the plan. A few ideas Ryan is proposing include:
* Tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans
* Tax increases for anyone who makes less than $100,000 per year
* Cutting federal spending to what it was in 1951
* Cuts to Social Security
* Cuts to Medicare
Ryan's goal is to pay off the federal debt by 2080, but a recent analysis by a non-partisan tax agency determined the proposal would significantly increase the national debt over the next 70 years. Ryan said the analysis only suggests numbers need to be tweaked in his proposal to reach a more favorable outcome.
The Economist, an international magazine typically sympathetic to Ryan's idea, ripped his proposal to slash (and eventually eliminate) Medicare and "balance the budget on the backs of poor seniors." Here's an excerpt:
Mr Ryan has put forward a serious proposal for shrinking medical-cost inflation and hence shrinking the long-term federal budget deficit. It does so by ending America's provision of first-rate health care to all seniors. Rich seniors will still be able to afford high-quality medical care. Poor seniors won't. They will suffer more and die younger.Then there's his plan to privatize Social Security, which is similar to President George W. Bush's unpopular proposal. A columnist in the LA Times described Ryan's Social Security proposal, which allows workers to invest in stocks instead of diverting money to the current system, as such:
What is Ryan really up to? His Roadmap would achieve a goal that conservative opponents of Social Security have cherished for decades: killing the program by undermining its broad base of popular support. It would sap Social Security's resources, increase its complexity and hammer a wedge between the currently retired or near-retired (who would be guaranteed their current statutory benefits) and younger workers and the future workforce (who would be increasingly on their own). The term for this is "divide and conquer."Ryan himself said his entire proposal, called the "Roadmap for America," was only meant to stir debate and get national leaders talking about new ways to control federal spending and reduce the national debt. He seemed surprised people were upset over his plan to dismantle popular programs that benefit middle-class and poor Americans to help pay for a tax cut for the wealthy.
"The reason I did this was to try and stir debate and encourage others to do this as well,” he said. “What I’m finding is that’s probably not going to happen because of all the demagoguery ... It tells them, ‘Don’t stick your head above the foxhole or else you’ll got shot.’ ”There's no chance Ryan will face a serious challenge for re-election this November. But it'll be interesting to see if his extreme proposals register at all with local voters. If nothing else, Ryan's ideas should embolden Democrats to take a stronger stance against the six-term incumbent.
But fawning media coverage, sweetheart deals, and Ryan's genuine charm make him a lock for political stardom. With that stardom, he'll push radical proposals that could fundamentally change our way of life. I wonder if he'll also keep serving pancakes at Pancake Days?
Update: Here's an interesting look at the debate between Ryan and a wonky policy group over Ryan's proposal. Ryan accuses the policy group - led by a higher-up in President George W. Bush's administration - of partisan analysis. The group responds that Ryan misstates numbers and can't cover up the fact that he wants to cut taxes for the super-wealthy at the expense of benefit cuts and tax increases for average-income Americans.