Rep. Paul Ryan released a budget proposal in the House this week that is, if anything, even better than his remarkable first draft last year. While not perfect, it makes for a good starting point.
It is also moot. The Senate will not pass this, or any other budget this year, any more than it has in the last 2 years.
Still, the Ryan budget is important if only as a didactic exercise. It helps keep the Republican Party focused on what needs to be done, and raises the discussion over size of government and appropriate fiscal policy.
The first and perhaps most welcome component of Ryan’s plan is the proper weight it gives to national priorities. The Ryan Budget recognizes what the role of the federal government ultimately is; the protection of the nation against aggression. Ryan seems to understand that America cannot afford to allocate one penny less for defense than is necessary to maintain the undisputed ability to protect legitimate American interests wherever they may be threatened. In this, he departs from the President and the majority of Democrats, who seem more than willing to sacrifice national security to purchase a few more years of life for the administrative welfare state.
After meeting the needs of the federal government’s prime responsibility, Ryan’s latest proposal sets about tackling the fiscal issues – debt and economic growth.
Much in this budget is familiar and welcome –a repeal of Obamacare; tax reform that broadens the base and lowers rates; block-granting Medicaid funds to the states, and capping those funds. It cuts proposed spending, to the tune of $5 Trillion less than President intends over the next decade. And, in the most dramatic change from his previous offering, presents a proposal to inject the dying, diseased hulk that is Medicare with a free-market antidote.
Ryan proposes to move Medicare towards a premium-support system, incorporating competition among private insurance companies and the current government funded fee for service option. It is widely understood that Medicare is the predominant agent of federal spending, resultant debt, and incessantly swelling health care costs, due in large part to the inefficiencies inherent in the fee-for-service system. This proposal takes a bold stride towards emancipating Medicare (and the health care system in general) from these inefficiencies, through market competition -- essentially introducing modern economics into the healthcare arena.
Predictably, it did not take long for the left to display their collective indignation towards the plan. The White House decried the lack of “fairness, balance, and shared sacrifice” as though those were responsible budgetary criteria. The New York Times, apparently absolving themselves of any duty to read the budget before commenting on it, suggesting that traditional Medicare costs would go up as a result of private insurers ‘cherry picking’ healthier seniors, relegating older, less healthy ones to the traditional plan. In fact, the Ryan proposal specifically prohibits this, stating that, “Health plans that participate alongside a traditional Medicare option in the Medicare Exchange would be required to offer insurance to all seniors — regardless of age and health status — thereby preventing insurers from cherry-picking only the healthiest seniors for coverage under their plans.”
The Times, of course, rarely concerns itself with any outmoded romantic notions of accuracy.
The proposed budget is not perfect, by any means. It falls somewhat short, insomuch as it fails to address the Social Security problem, does not eliminate federal departments that have no business existing, and misses, in my opinion, some critical details in the tax plan.
Nevertheless, it does provide what I believe to be an acceptable jumping off point for making the sweeping reforms that will be necessary in the coming years. It does not get us there overnight, but it provides the foundations for dismantling the federal administrative state that has grown out of the last century, and for returning to the states the primary responsibility for day-to-day governance.
The measures by which to judge the Ryan budget – by which any budget proposals should be judged – are on A)its prioritization of government functions, B) its effect on long term debt and deficit spending, and C)how well it promotes national economic growth. On each of these, Ryan’s proposal, as a first step, should earn approving nods. It is a national shame that it will not be adopted, or even considered, by an apathetic Senate this year, but can provide a potent weapon in the hands of the GOP’s Presidential nominee, if that nominee possesses the wisdom to use it.