I've just published a piece in Time on the Paul Ryan plan, which poses a test of character for President Obama. Will he turn the plan into a series of attack ads, or use it to spur a national conversation on the U.S. budget crisis? Check out an excerpt of my piece here:
It was fateful that Paul Ryan released his budget plan the same week Barack Obama launched his re-election campaign — because we will now see what matters most to Obama.
The President has talked passionately and consistently about the need to tackle the country's problems, act like grownups, do the hard things and win the future. But he has also skipped every opportunity to say how he'd tackle the gigantic problem of entitlements. Ryan's plan is deeply flawed, but it is courageous.
It should prompt the President to say, in effect, "You're right about the problem. You're wrong about the solution. And here's how I would accomplish the same goal by more humane and responsible means." That would be the beginning of a great national conversation.
The liberal establishment is in full fury over Ryan's plan. From the New York Times to the influential website TPM (Talking Points Memo), all quickly denounced it. And it is an odd proposal from a man who seems genuinely committed to a comprehensive solution to the U.S.'s fiscal crisis. Ryan makes magical assumptions about growth — and thus tax revenues. He tells us that once his policies are enacted, unemployment will decline to 4%, a rate that the U.S. has not seen for nearly half a century.
The plan does not touch Social Security, and it does not specify the actual programs it would cut. So for all its supposed radicalism, it's actually quite weak at outlining reductions in government spending. The bulk of the deficit reduction — which allows for the large tax cuts in Ryan's plan — would come from changing American health care. But there, too, Ryan's plan is highly unrealistic....
So why do I applaud the Ryan plan? Because it is a serious effort to tackle entitlement programs, even though any discussion of cuts in these programs — which are inevitable and unavoidable — could be political suicide. If Democrats don't like his budget ideas, they should propose their own — presumably without tax cuts and with stronger protections for Medicare and Medicaid and deeper reductions in defense spending.
But they, too, must face up to the fiscal reality. The Government Accountability Office concludes that America faces a "fiscal gap" of $99.4 trillion over the next 75 years, which would mean we would have to increase taxes by 50% or reduce spending by 35% simply to stop accumulating more debt. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will together make up 50% of the federal budget by 2021....
Obama has an obvious script in front of him. He could turn every item in Ryan's plan into an attack ad, scare the elderly and ride to victory in 2012. But that would probably mean we had pushed off reform of entitlement programs one more time, hoping that someone sometime in the future will lead this country.