14 April 2011

Obama vs. Ryan

By courageously making the first move, Paul Ryan ensured that any discussion of deficit reduction would begin on Republican turf.

It's nice that, for the first time since 2008, President Obama appears concerned about the deficit. Unfortunately, after endorsing a budget with a shortfall of nearly $1.5 trillion, it would take a yeoman's effort to simply get us back to Bush-era deficit levels.

While Obama was right to take partial aim at Medicare and Medicaid and put a bullseye on the Pentagon, he mentioned Social Security only in passing, which suggests to me that he doesn't have the political stomach to discuss cutting the third rail at all. Any discussion of long-term budgetary coherence must begin with Social Security, because while Obama is correct in saying that Social Security hasn't added a dime to the national debt, the long-term projections beginning in about 2040 are awful. This program, as currently constructed, will bankrupt us. Period.

Ryan, conversely, will probably have to give on some of his proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. While the programs need to be restructured, some in the center appear to be shocked by how deep some of his proposals are willing to go. Additionally, as we've written here before, Republicans will need to give up the dogmatic belief that our fiscal woes can be cured without raising taxes -- especially the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% that will expire on January 1, 2013. While Ryan deserves credit for putting his money where his mouth has been, the fact that he proposed literally no new revenue increases is sort of laughable.

I'd expect that there is enough common ground here that a bipartisan consensus can be reached. Both parties want to radically streamline the tax code; both parties believe Medicare and Medicaid should be revamped; and I'm guessing both parties can probably agree that the Pentagon's budget can at least be reigned in a little bit.

The standard liberal line is that the deficit can be cured by soaking the rich. The standard conservative line is that it can be cured by defunding Planned Parenthood, NPR and the Department of Education.

If the Obama/Ryan debate is America's first step toward moving past those petty limitations, then good on them.

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