A 'Path' worth exploring

Democrats, Republicans should consider Ryan’s budget proposal as a step toward bipartisanship

The Conservative Party Action Conference this past weekend provided me with numerous Republican stories about which to write, from filibuster king Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to rising conservative star Dr. Ben Carson, the keynote speaker at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. But the person I want to focus on is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee. Last week Ryan unveiled the third incarnation of his Path to Prosperity budget proposal. Ryan’s CPAC speech focused on his proposal and outlined the conservative principles on which his budget is based. Understanding Ryan’s budget is important – not because of its overwhelming chances of success, but because it forms a powerful challenge to a Democratic Party and a Democratic president that have failed to make a strong response in terms of fiscal policy.

Ryan’s proposal aims to bring government spending down past the levels the country saw following World War II – which were about 20 percent of GDP – to 19.1 percent. Current federal spending as a percent of GDP is almost 23 percent, which means that Ryan’s proposed budget would reduce federal spending – and effectively, government itself – by 18 percent in the next 10 years. Then comes the big question: how?

This is where the Ryan budget has faced some criticism. The budget will not impose any new tax increases to raise revenue and would rely instead on a combination of deep cuts in nondefense discretionary spending. It would repeal Obamacare but maintain the act’s $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. This use of Obamacare cuts is ironic considering that another goal of the Ryan budget is to overturn the main part of the Affordable Care Act — coverage for the uninsured. Ryan’s reliance on elements of the Affordable Care Act in crafting his budget have provoked some attacks from the right, because some conservatives feel that the budget is compromising with Obamacare by not seeking to overturn the health care act altogether. On the other hand, more pragmatic conservatives criticize the effort to repeal Obamacare, fearing that such an ambition threatens to turn the budget into more of a political posturing exercise than a solution.

Another area of trouble is Social Security. Social Security is a form of mandatory federal spending that makes up about 20 percent of the government’s budget. And though Ryan’s Path to Prosperity would institute some reforms in other forms of mandatory spending such as Medicare, it leaves Social Security, an area with ample potential for even moderate reform, untouched.

The Path to Prosperity walks a difficult line between idealism and realism, but in all fairness, there is no easy path. The budget has a broad appeal to conservatives as a whole – it reduces government spending and institutes no new tax hikes. The proposal also aims to reform the tax code, creating two simple rates: those making under $100,000 a year pay 10 percent, while the rest pay 25 percent. Federal corporate tax rates would fall as well, from 35 percent to 25 percent. As with the attempted partial repeal of Obamacare, Ryan runs the risk of making the bill a kind of idealistic martyr rather than a viable solution. Still, these are goals on which many conservatives can agree and a rallying point for the budget’s proponents.

The Senate Democrats responded with a budget of their own, but the response was little more than a formality. Their budget, released by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, calls for tax increases for the wealthy and corporations and avoids looking too closely at any reforms to entitlement spending. Furthermore, the Democratic budget aims to reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion during the next 10 years, compared to Ryan’s $5.7 trillion over the same period.

Ryan’s is not a mainstream, bipartisan approach to the budget crisis by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, a more pragmatic and realistic proposal than that offered by Senate Democrats. The Path to Prosperity makes a number of concessions, from not touching a key entitlement like Social Security to maintaining some of Obama’s tax increases. These are nothing like the concessions Democrats would hope for, but they offer a glimpse at what a future, bipartisan budget may look like. Will the Ryan budget pass unchanged, or even pass at all? It is unlikely. But it is nonetheless an important step in the right direction, one that Democrats – and Republicans – should analyze before regurgitating broken talking points.

Sam Novack’s column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at s.novack@cavalierdaily.com.

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