The first thing to praise about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan, unveiled Tuesday, is that it exists. The Wisconsin Republican has produced a plan to deal with the debt, which is more than his Democratic colleagues or President Obama can say.
The plan contains big blanks: Ryan proposes broadening the tax base by curbing deductions but doesn’t specify which ones. He doesn’t describe the Social Security reform he says is needed. Still, it is brave of Ryan to risk the inevitable — and, indeed, swiftly ensuing — condemnations of the plan as an assault on seniors and the poor.
The second point about the Ryan plan is that it taxes too little and cuts too much. Ryan proposes a long-overdue overhaul of the tax code. But he balks at the notion that additional revenue is needed to underwrite the needs of an aging society. He would keep tax revenue at its average of 18 to 19 percent of the economy over the past several decades; by contrast, the Simpson-Bowles recommendations would bring revenue to 21 percent of the gross domestic product. Ryan’s ceiling is inadequate to the task of government as we, and we think most Americans, would like to see it operate. Ryan would bring federal spending by 2050 to under 15 percent of the economy, a level not seen since 1951 - before the adoption of Medicare, Medicaid and other strands of the social safety net.
The more interesting part of Ryan’s approach involves Medicare. For those under 55, he would end the open-ended fee-for-service system and gradually raise the eligibility age to 67.
In a statement Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president believes that long-term deficit reduction is “essential” but “strongly disagrees” with Ryan’s approach. “The president believes there is a more balanced way to put America on a path to prosperity.” What would that path be, Mr. President?