“The illusion of unity isn’t worth having”- Christopher Hitchens
The fiscal debate in the United States was a given a jolt last week when Paul Ryan released his budget entitled “Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal.” Those who believed that this debate had been settled after last summer’s anti-climatic debt ceiling fiasco have been given a stern reminder that there is plenty that still separates the President and the Republicans. Mr. Ryan, the wonkish House Budget Chair, has made no secret of his desire to radically revamp the role of the federal government as it pertains to public expenditure and government programs like Medicare.
Some would have you believe that Mr. Ryan’s plan is an early election year gift to the re-election of Barack Obama and Democrats alike. I’m not convinced; there is only slight validity to his plan having political ramifications. In a special election last year, Democrats were able to pick off a solidly Republican congressional district after linking the Republican candidate with Mr. Ryan’s controversial new Medicare proposal. Ryan, however, doesn’t seem fazed by the onslaught he has faced and will continue to face from Democrats. He seems to relish it, in fact. Ryan might be the best weapon Republicans have in an election year. He is one of the best thinkers, communicators, and debaters in all of politics, let alone the Republican Party.
In his newest plan, Paul Ryan slashes public expenditures by 5 trillion dollars over a ten-year period. This, compared to the 1.2 trillion in cuts offered in President Obama’s budget. Moreover, his plan goes beyond spending cuts. He has boldly sought to remake Medicare and has found an unlikely ally in his cause. Senator Ron Wyden, a progressive Democrat from Oregon, along with Ryan, has spearheaded a proposal that attempts to preserve the program, albeit it with major changes, such as giving individuals the option to opt in and out of the program and vouchers to buy private insurance. This must have made the unholy trinity that is Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, and Dick Durbin wonder how they let one of their own cross over to the dark side.
There is now a battle to be had between Republicans and Democrats that has the potential to be one of substance rather than exaggerated falsities. The Democrats under the President’s budget and Republicans behind Mr. Ryan’s have presented two separate visions for the fiscal and economic path of the country. (Note: I say Mr. Ryan’s plan because no Republican presidential candidate has a plan as comprehensive as Mr. Ryan’s, and the front-runner, Mitt Romney, has endorsed the Congressman’s plan). While neither of these budgets will move in terms of legislation this year, there is an irony that the presentation of the two plans to the electorate might be the best chance of ending the current political gridlock.
Whether he likes it or not, Paul Ryan has emerged as the chief spokesman for the Republican Party on fiscal issues. He may not have wanted to run for President, but Ryan has now taken center stage without ever having entered the race. It’s too soon to see whether the Ryan budget has a definitive impact on the Presidential race, but he and his budget have now become an inescapable part of the political landscape, for better or for worse.
The question now becomes: Will the pubic get on board?
The answer: Unknown.
After getting hammered for his budget last year, Ryan seems to be a little more cautious in his presentation the second time around. According to a recent Politico article the Republican Leadership took no chances in the roll out for this budget and prepared by polling 50 Medicare battleground districts, consulting rank n’ file house members on how to expand support, and briefing Republican presidential candidates.
While the stage is set, one must wonder if there will ever be a fight. If unemployment continues to drop and gas prices decline, the President may well be looking at a 5 to 8 point victory in November. What’s compelling about Paul Ryan’s plan is that he is attempting to address long-term problems now rather than going for the quick fix that characterized the 11th hour deal negotiated last August. Whether it’s conservatives saying the plan doesn’t balance the budget soon enough or leftists saying he’s dismantling the federal government, Paul Ryan can’t seem to win. Nobody seems to lately.
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