Facing fiscal reality
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s bold budget plan passed the U.S. House by a 228-191 margin Thursday. But 10 of his fellow Republicans voted against it. No Democrat voted for it. And it has no chance of getting through the Democratic-controlled Senate. If it did, President Barack Obama would veto it.
Still, Rep. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, deserves considerable credit for pushing through a bill that would impose steep reductions in federal spending.
While Rep. Ryan’s proposal passed with only 228 votes, that was 228 more than the president’s budget proposal got when the House rejected it in a 414-0 shutout Wednesday. House Democrats said they couldn’t support it because of the way the Republican leadership presented it.
Yet last year, the Democratic Senate rejected the president’s budget plan by a 97-0 margin. Indeed, the Senate hasn’t passed a budget resolution in the last three years.
Back to this election year: Democrats are bashing the House bill as being loaded with tax breaks for “the rich” and painful domestic-spending cuts for the middle class and the poor. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., even called it “cruel Darwinism.”
But the cruel truth remains that the United States can’t sustain its current, reckless fiscal course. Before Mr. Obama became president, the record for an annual federal deficit was $455 billion. In his first three years in the White House, we’ve had annual deficits of at least $1.29 trillion each — with another one coming.
As Rep. Ryan warned Thursday: “It we don’t tackle these fiscal problems soon, they’re going to tackle us as a country.”
In a predictable response to the Ryan bill’s passage Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney reprised the stale “ending Medicare as we know it” line.
The Ryan plan does include a comprehensive Medicare overhaul, including block grants for states, subsidies for seniors’ insurance premiums and other incentives for more free-market options.
However, without sweeping changes, Medicare is doomed. As Baby Boomer retirement numbers inexorably rise, the system’s balance-sheet viability inexorably falls. Like it or not, “Medicare as we know it” can’t last.
Another harsh truth: No Republicans, Democrats or magicians can restore fiscal stability in Washington as long as the American public persists in conflicting demands for keeping taxes low while big-government programs continue to grow.
Congress’ wariness of that attitude was re-confirmed Wednesday when the House overwhelmingly rejected (382-38) a budget plan based on the recommendations of the president’s Simpson-Bowles debt commission. That proposal included both major spending cuts and tax hikes. Unfortunately, it ducked the entitlement issue.
That proposal, like Rep. Ryan’s, does include tough calls designed to significantly slow the federal red-ink flow.
And until voters send a clear message that they will support the hard decisions required, politicians aren’t the only ones to blame for our growing debt crisis.