The Ryan Budget: A test of character for Obama
April 7th, 2011
08:50 AM ET

The Ryan Budget: A test of character for Obama

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.

(See TIME's Q&A with Paul Ryan on his ambitious 2012 budget.)

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....

(See the nitty-gritty details of Paul Ryan's medicare plan.)

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.

Read the rest of the article over at Time and let me know what you think here, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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Topics: Economy • From Fareed • Politics • President Obama • Time • Time Magazine • United States

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Steve

    "Ryan ignores Social Security because he knows privatization won't fly and he doesn't have the courage to propose a mainstream reform of the system that would be unpopular with conservative mandarins. He exempts seniors and baby boomers from his Medicare plan because he doesn't have the courage to take on a powerful Republican voting bloc. He eschews details, basing the bulk of his plan on little more than theoretical spending caps, because he doesn't have the courage to explain what his spending reductions would actually mean. He focuses most of his cuts on programs for the poor because he doesn't have the courage to tackle weak claims rather than weak claimants. He gives the Pentagon a pass because he doesn't have the courage to stand up to hawks in his own party. And above all else, he refuses to consider tax increases of any kind because he doesn't have the courage to take on Grover Norquist and tell his own caucus what every genuinely serious analyst already knows: the only way to tackle the long-term deficit is with both tax hikes and spending cuts."

    April 7, 2011 at 9:16 am | Reply
    • TomS

      What's the difference between a lawyer and a bucket of sh(t? The bucket...No, seriously, I don't mind having my taxes raised, but only after spending is seriously cut first. Congress has not earned my trust. It needs to show it is serious about getting spending under control before I volunteer any more of my money for your pet projects.

      April 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  2. John

    This Paul Ryan is just another right-wing idiot on Capitol Hill who never thinks to get us out of all these senseless wars and cut the military spending and foreign aid down to size. We have $2.8B to spend on Afghanistan every week and yet cannot balance the national budget. Something is quite wrong here!!!

    April 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  3. Zephae

    I don't know that I'd call this a "serious plan," Fareed. After all, Ryan even said "this is not a budget, it's a cause." While Ryan should be commended for even bringing up the topic of reforming/cutting Medicare and Medicaid and taking a step to get the conversation going, I think David Frum had it about right that this "budget" is really just the party talking to itself about priorities and strategy when it comes to serious budget talks.

    After all, Ryan all but said that his budget uses the fiscal situation of the government to enact long-standing Republican priorities. Why do that unless it's not really a serious proposal but in fact a template for Republican talking points? I agree that Obama needs to respond with a serious budget and get this debate going, but "serious" Ryan's budget is not.

    April 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  4. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    GOP solution: Turn all the Old, Poor, and Sick people into slaves. Then whip them good until they are Young, Rich, and Healthy. Or until they die. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the next batch of slaves. Self sustaining system. Oh no, if Palin reads this she'll use this idea as her own.

    April 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      Thank you,GOPisGreedOverPeople. That was very well stated and very true.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:27 am | Reply
  5. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Test of Obama's character my A__. Ryan and the GOP are showing their true character. And it's what we already knew. The GOP do not practice what Jesus taught us. You know, the part about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, and giving to the poor. Maybe the GOP worship something else? Money?

    The only way to fix health care is to go to a single payer system. A single payer system is the ONLY system that will allow "we the people" to negotiate better health care prices.

    D_umb A__ Ryan says a voucher system (to buy insurance) would keep costs down by encouraging competition. That is utter BS! Insurance is one of the main problems in our health care system today. Here's why:

    1. Insurance wastes from 10-25% of our hard earned health care dollars already today. And insurance provides NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. The money is ALL WASTED! Insurance is NOT the answer! If insurance WAS the answer, then we wouldn't have a PROBLEM today!

    2. Some say interstate sales of insurance would control health care costs. That is utter BS too! Assume all providers in an area charge $100 for a visit. Then it doesn’t matter how many insurance companies “compete” (yeah right) with each other. Each insurance company will still have to reimburse the provider for the $100 service PLUS the insurance company’s administrative expenses. We need competition at the provider level and get rid of insurance completely.

    3. Competition needs to be at a provider level and not at an insurance level in order to work. That being said, then the providers should ALREADY be competing on prices regardless of insurance or not. But the providers are NOT competing on prices. So since the providers don’t/won’t compete on prices, then “we the people” need a way to negotiate better prices. And a single payer system is the ONLY way to do that.

    4. Some say tort reform is the answer. Tort reform will put more money in the Provider’s pockets that’s for sure. But how would you legislate that the “savings” would be passed on to the subscriber? The money will go to the providers and that’s where it will stay. But of course we’d all get the benefit of crappier doctors. If that’s a benefit?

    5. Some say HSA’s are the answer. HSA’s are already available. HSA’s have not and will not have any effect on what providers charge. The real problem is what provider’s charge in the first place.

    April 7, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  6. j. von hettlingen

    Will Ryan's plan create a fiscal gap? Does it make sense to raise tax for 95% of the country's population, while its other 5% benefits from massive tax cuts?

    April 8, 2011 at 8:32 am | Reply
  7. RealityCheck

    Looks like all the idiotic attack posts on Ryan on this article proves Zakaria right... Democrats are more interested in cheap political points than in leading. No wonder voters booted them and are on track to boot even more of them out in 2012.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  8. Alan

    Really....more blood from a stone. The GOP and their wealthy backers have drained the life out of the middle class and won't be satisfied until we are all peasants. Ryan refuses to increase revenue but would rather drain away what little is left. Tax rates for the wealthy are at their lowest since 1928, with the exception of the Reagan years (we all know how that worked out). Tax rates in the 50's and 60's were between 60-70% on income above 200K (about 2 million in today's money)...our nation flourished, we built universities, interstates, we are left with crumbling roads, antique schools, abandoned factories....because of the insatiable greed of the wealthy and the corrupt lackeys like Ryan. The GOP trashed this nation's economy throughout the Bush era and now want to make it up on the backs on the working family...shame on them and those who vote them in....The current inequality is would think the elite would have figured out by now and at least made some token changes to correct course....greed

    April 8, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  9. Invictus




    April 9, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Reply

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