It is to be hoped that Republican congressional leaders will stand firm on the idea of serious budget cuts, but this is far from certain. The best way forward, in my view, is to unite behind the Paul Ryan plan and not accept anything else, other than minor (and I mean minor) tweaking. This will require more political courage than some have seemed willing to show. And the Democrats are feverishly working to advance their weak position. Can the GOP rise to the challenge?
First, of course, the Democrats are already attacking the Medicare provisions of Ryan’s plan. Never mind that these provisions fall into the out years and won’t affect anyone who is now over 55 years of age. Even then, it will be a more efficient and means-tested plan that assures the likelihood that Medicare will still be around. If nothing is done, it will surprisingly soon be extremely difficult to fund Medicare and Social Security. The liberals would rather demagogue the issue and try to scare the recipients of these benefits, than face up to their responsibility to deal with reality.
The Democrats’ actions should be seen as a good political opportunity for the Republicans, assuming that the GOP doesn’t cower in fear of political risks. Whenever such challenges present themselves, there is going to be substantial risk to any person or group that attempts to responsibly take them on. Remember G. W. Bush’s Social Security proposals? He took extreme heat from the opposition, who couldn’t be bothered to suggest anything of their own. Here are some suggestions for the Republicans (which mostly they’ve already thought of, I hope).
1. Don’t fear a government shutdown. This may very well be the only way to effectively assert majority power in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has control of the purse strings.
2. Counter the Democrats’ fear tactics with the facts on the unsustainability of Medicare if changes aren’t made. The right changes will preserve it.
3. Understand that up to now there has been no serious proposal to effectively cut spending, other than Paul Ryan’s plan. Rep. Ryan seems to be the best defender of his work. GOP leaders should understand what he is proposing. They would do well to support it if they are actually serious about the deficit. Cutting a trillion dollars over ten years won’t help much when the debt is increasing well over $1 trillion per year. Someone should be doing the math.
4. Don’t allow any tax increases. This would stop the recovery. Point out the absurdity of raising taxes on the “rich” who earn $250,000 a year and still struggle to stay in business because of government over-regulation. Tax increases on the “rich” would hurt everyone.
5. Be aware that the Democrats want to increase the number of Americans who pay no income tax (currently about half), then count on them to support increasing taxes on everyone else. If possible, they will try to promote the entitlement mentality and encourage Wisconsin-type demonstrations by anyone who fears there may be a reduction in government benefits.
6. Help people to understand the problem: If serious measures aren’t undertaken now, there probably won’t be any, this side of a serious collapse that would make 2008’s financial crisis look like a minor downturn.
7. Understand the weakness of the Democrats’ position. They have offered little to nothing outside of demagoguery and scare tactics. But they can’t deny that there are serious fiscal problems.
It’s still possible to get on top of this debt problem. But it ultimately must include serious reform of entitlements if these programs are to be preserved at all. Paul Ryan has offered a credible approach. Certainly no Democrat has done that. The Democratic leadership sees no need to submit a budget proposal at all. They just demand tax increases.