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Paul Ryan's "Roadmap" (2.0)

By February 3, 2010

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At the website, Roadmap.Republican.Budget.House.Gov, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan pitches his 'Roadmap for America's Future 2.0'

This is a tough time of the year for political journalists.

Editors love it, but journalists are saddled with the task of culling delightful and dramatic stories from dull, dry numbers.

This is the time of the year when state and federal governments release their budget proposals for the coming year (fiscal year 2011). At this moment, journalists all over the nation are plodding through small-print dictionary-sized volumes filled with line after line of allocations and appropriations. Each line represents the future for an organization or agency, and often journalists will have two of these behemoths in front of them as they copiously compare last year's allowance to this year's (that is often where interesting stories will reveal themselves).

Just describing the process gives me flashbacks of weary tedium, and the memory of sitting in one place for so long sends a dull ache down my spine.

Since last week, however, I've been all too familiar with the process, studying the Republicans' 2011 budget proposal submitted by Wisconsin House Rep. Paul Ryan. Ryan calls it the "Roadmap to America's Future 2.0." He tacks the 2.0 onto the title, because he submitted a 2010 budget last year under the same name.

Liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, who once worked for Howard Dean, published a blog Monday that tore apart Ryan's budget, offering only part of the story, but employing scare tactics to keep people from taking it seriously.

After studying the proposal over the weekend, a reader was kind enough to send me a link to Klein's post (thanks, RealTime), which prompted me to switch gears and turn the article I was previously writing into a response. Much of what I had already been working on is included, so forgive me.

From the article:

At first glance, Klein's analysis seems difficult to refute, except for one nagging question: why would Ryan risk political suicide by fashioning a budget proposal around a benefit reduction for seniors? Seniors are perhaps the most powerful political force in America. Sure, tinkering with Medicare benefits is an inevitable certainty, but reducing them as dramatically as Klein claims Ryan does just doesn't make political sense. A closer look sheds more light on the issue ... as it so often does.

If president Barack Obama is serious about considering Republican ideas, Ryan's proposal is an excellent place for him to start. The Congressman's Roadmap uses real numbers to address real problems and offers real solutions. Obama would be wise to consider it.

Look for analysis of Obama's budget proposal later this week. To steal a word from Klein, I'm still "slogging" through it.

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Screen Capture from Roadmap.Republicans.Budget.House.Gov


February 4, 2010 at 12:04 am
(1) RealTime53 says:

Hi Justin –

It is I who should be thanking you. If you hadn’t posted on Paul Ryan months ago, he wouldn’t have been on my radar. Ryan is a real fiscal conservative. He has guts.

Here is Ezra Klein’s interview with Paul Ryan from yesterday afternoon:


February 4, 2010 at 10:15 am
(2) RealTime53 says:

Hi Justin –

“If president Barack Obama is serious about considering Republican ideas, Ryan’s proposal is an excellent place for him to start. ”

I think that we could accurately predict the results of such a consideration:

1. Exhibit One, Your Honor, ObamaCare. Partial funding for ObamaCare was to come from cuts in MediCare. The specific part of Medicare to be cut was MediCare Advantage. MediCare Advantage uses public dollars to pay for private MediCare Supplement insurance. The usual participant in this program is the same high-income retiree that you and Representative Ryan correctly believe could pay more of their medical costs.

In short, if there is any program in the federal budget that could and should get cut, it would be MediCare Advantage. What was the refrain? “Barack Obama wants to cut your MediCare!” While accurate, it wasn’t exactly true.

2. Exhibit Two, Your Honor. Pay Go accounting practices. For every dime of additional expenditure, there has to be a dime of cuts. It passed on a straight party line vote 60-40. Even the seven Republican co-sponsors of the bill chose not to vote for it.

3. Exhibit Three, Your Honor. The debt commission. Consisiting of half Democrats and half Republicans, the debt commission was to be tasked with finding fiscal waste and eliminating it. The motion was defeated. The Republican rationale was that Democrats would use it to eliminate Republican projects. That is particularly difficult to see with a 50/50 party split amongst the commission members.

4. Exhibit Four, Your Honor. The SOTU. Barack Obama embraced a number of Republican proposals. Off shore drilling. Tort reform. Eliminating the capital gains tax on small business. Any motion from the Republican Party? If so, it is not apparent.

To summarize , Your Honor, if Barack Obama were to reject his own health care plan and embrace the Republican health care plan, HR 3210, I’m not sure that the embrace would be returned. The object of the game is not about furthering Republican proposals. And it is not about what is best for the country. The game right now is about denying Barack Obama a legislative victory and getting Republicans elected in 2010.

Representative Ryan has done a difficult and gutsy thing. He has shown exactly how hard it is to balance the budget. There have to be cuts in entitlements and the military. Neither party wants to grapple with this. And, were either party to embrace these proposals, the cry from the opposition party would be “They want to cut your MediCare.” While technically accurate, it would not be true.

Your Honor, I rest my case.

February 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm
(3) usconservatives says:

Your Honor,

In his zeal to pillory the Republican Party, I’m afraid the liberal prosecutor has made some major misrepresentations of fact. With all due respect to Mr. RealTime, these are egregious and one must wonder whether these factual departures were made intentionally, since the substantive, underlying truths are so easy to verify.

As to exhibit one, I fail to see how something can be both accurate and “not exactly true.” But, that’s irrelevant. Regarding Medicare Advantage, it’s well known that the president called for eliminating $177 billion from the Medicare budget. What few people realize, however, is that President Obama wants to completely eliminate Medicare Advantage. While any Republican will concede that cuts to entitlements and Medicare are inevitable, completely eliminating this program (started in 2003) is reckless, irresponsible and could have dramatic unintended consequences. Ryan’s bill reduces the funding for this program, to place more of a financial onus on higher-income retirees, but it doesn’t cut the program altogether. High-income retirees aren’t the only ones who benefit from Medicare Advantage. For many seniors, this is a safety net that can save their lives when medical costs rise above their existing benefits.

Ah, Exhibit two. Perhaps the most amusing of all four of the prosecution’s arguments. Mr. RealTime correctly notes that the PAYGO bill was passed on a party-line vote, but fails to cite why Republicans voted against the measure. Perhaps the reason for this is that it was difficult to find any info in the liberal mainstream media. It’s there, but it takes some research.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the recent PAYGO bill wasn’t the first. In fact, on its second day under Democratic control, Congress enacted a pay-as-you-go bill in 2007. Then as now, the bill included a proviso mechanism that kicks in when either party has a substantial majority. That mechanism is that, with a simple majority vote, PAYGO can be ignored. No sooner was the first pay-go law enacted than Democrats began to ignore it. First was a $288 billion farm bill in 2008; the doozy, however, was the $787 billion stimulus package that passed nearly a year ago.

But frankly, this wasn’t the only reason, or even the reason that Republicans voted against the most recent PAYGO bill. Undoubtedly, had the legislation’s text been in line with the legislation’s hype, Republicans would have voted for it unanimously. While the mechanism mentioned above was one major provision Republicans weren’t willing to duplicate, another, more sinister one was required for passage: for every dime of additional expenditure, the legislation called for a dime of cuts or a dime of tax increases. Had it simply been a dime of spending for a dime of cuts, as advertised, no doubt it would have passed. Your Honor, that just simply wasn’t the case.

Exhibit three was completely stunning, considering that Republican Judd Gregg was one of the bill’s co-sponsors and that many Republicans in the House and Senate were supportive of the legislation. In fact, House Leader Nancy Pelosi is almost single-handedly responsible for the destruction of this legislation. She leaned on conservative Senate Democrats to vote against the bill (which seven of them ultimately did) out of the fear that it would erode her own power. According to The Hill, “Pelosi has been reluctant to accept a commission, fearing that it could take power away from her committee chairmen. She has pressed the Senate to first pass a pay-go bill, already approved in the House, before the House will consider the fiscal commission.” Senate Republicans, meanwhile, voted against the legislation because they wanted certain ground rules in place to which the commission would abide — the most significant being a resolution to take any additional tax proposals off the table. This may seem draconian to Democrats, but it wasn’t. Tax increases related to inflation and the cost of living were still permissible. The concession Republicans wanted was simply no additional taxes. This, unfortunately, was the deal-breaker. As the prosecutor has pointed out, Your Honor, it’s silly to assume that a bipartisan commission would make partisan project cuts, when the makeup of the group is split evenly.

Your Honor, I humbly ask you to that you throw out exhibit four of the prosecution’s case altogether. First and foremost, the State of the Union, as even those on the Left would readily admit is typically an address of political posturing. This is where the president lays out his pie-in-the-sky agenda and encourages everyone to get on board. This is typically where promises are made, only to be broken before he has even left the building. I would be willing to gamble that if the president actually embraced the items the honorable prosecutor enumerated; namely, off shore drilling, tort reform and the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses, the Republicans would be delirious with joy. Of course, these proposals would have to be embraced as is and without compromise in order for such joy to be fully actualized. Unfortunately, the president has done nothing since the SOTU to indicate he’s actually willing to accept these proposals. In fact, even though he showed up in Baltimore, taking the GOP up on their invitation (for which, as I’ve said, he deserves credit), his spirit was one of conciliation, but his remarks and responses to Republican questions and proposals were ones of defiance.

In summation, Your Honor, if the Democratic Congress were to make the sudden and unlikely decision to use Rep. Ryan’s bill as its budget template moving forward, I would imagine Republicans would be as excited as a child at his birthday party. Far from hindering their hopes to make substantial gains in the 2010 midterm election, the GOP could use this major step forward as an opportunity to illustrate their hopes for the future. It would be an opportunity to cite what they’ve been able to accomplish since overcoming the Democrats’ death-grip on government.

The defense rests.

February 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm
(4) RealTime53 says:

I’d like to thank Your Honor for the opportunity for rebuttal and I’d like to thank my learned opponent for the courtesy of a reply.

Re Exhibit 1: To quote learned counsel, “What few people realize, however, is that President Obama wants to completely eliminate Medicare Advantage”. Learned counsel is quite correct and I have to apologize for not making myself clear on that point in my previous presentation.

Let’s review Medicare Advantage. Medicare pays 80% of covered expenses. Should the retiree be wealthy enough to afford it, the retiree could decline the public plan and choose a private plan that pays in excess of 80% of covered expenses. Part of the expense of the private plan is paid by Medicare Advantage. Currently, Medicare Advantage pays out more than Medicare pays per covered retiree. Under Obama’s plan, Medicare Advantage is eliminated and everyone is covered under Medicare. The net savings would be about $50B per year.

Quite frankly, I’ve always found MediCare Advantage to be faintly undemocratic. If you have enough money, you can get better insurance than the average retiree and the government picks up a good chunk of your tab. However, Your Honor need not worry. There will still be MediCare Supplement Insurance which wealthy retirees could still purchase, albeit without a federal subsidy.

“Ryan’s bill reduces the funding for this program, to place more of a financial onus on higher-income retirees, but it doesn’t cut the program altogether.”

Actually, sfter 10 years, Ryan’s plan places everyone on it. To quote Ryan: “•It preserves the existing Medicare program for those currently enrolled or becoming eligible in the next 10 years (those 55 and older today) – So Americans can receive the benefits they planned for throughout their working lives. For those currently under 55 – as they become Medicare-eligible – it creates a Medicare payment, initially averaging $11,000, to be used to purchase a Medicare certified plan.”

Which brings me to the sophistry in learned counsel’s argument. While he lauds Ryan’s plan, which places a greater burden on higher income retirees and cuts MediCare payments for all, he excoriates Obama’s for much milder measures.

Re: Exhibit Two. “for every dime of additional expenditure, the legislation called for a dime of cuts or a dime of tax increases.” Again, learned counsel is quite correct. Republicans voted against it because they feared tax increases. Let me remind learned counsel that, to the deficit, a tax increase looks exactly like a cut in expenditures. An equivalency can be found in the budget proposal of Paul Ryan. He doesn’t raise taxes. He just eliminates almost all deductions.

Re: Exhibit Three. Again learned counsel is quite correct. Seven Democrats voted against the bill. However, it is very difficult to paint Nancy Pelosi as the major villian in this piece, as all Senate Republicans voted against it. While one party will not cut taxes, the other refuses to cut entitlements. Neither stance is particularly good for the federal fiscal health.

Re: Exhibit Four. Like learned counsel, I too expect politicians to lie. However, unlike learned counsel I expect the opposition party to call politicians on their lies. For example, Barack Obama says that he will work with Republicans on tort reform. Is anyone calling him on it? Has anyone explored what the President might be offering? Why isn’t this being examined? If, for no other reason, than to reject it?

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