Is the GOP’s Debt-Reduction Plan Courageous or Dangerous?

WASHINGTON - MARCH 19: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) speaks as House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) (L) listens during a news conference on the health care legislation March 19, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House will vote on the Health Care Reform Legislation on Sunday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images/2010 Getty Images

Both parties recognize the need to control long-term spending and reduce the national debt. Up to this point, however, neither party has wanted to be the first one to propose a solution, since that would entail fiddling with sacred entitlement programs like Medicare. Which in turn means pissing off old people, or anyone who aspires to be old some day — everyone except maybe Charlie Sheen. Now, Republican congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, known as the GOP's resident budget wonk, has jumped into the fray. As introduced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed and a snazzy YouTube video, Congressman Ryan's plan would reduce federal spending by $6.2 trillion over ten years and reduce the debt by $4.4 trillion. That would be great and all, but it's how he wants to do it that's already become quite divisive. Medicaid would be turned into block grants, giving states more flexibility in how to use the funds. More controversial is that in his reformed Medicare (which would not affect anyone currently 55 or older), vouchers would be provided for purchasing private health-care insurance. The government would save money by limiting the value of the vouchers, which, many observers contend, would put seniors at risk of not being able to afford medical care. So: Is this really a courageous, visionary proposal? Or is Ryan merely weakening the social safety net?

Ezra Klein, Washington Post:

To my knowledge, Ryan’s budget doesn’t attempt to reform the medical-care sector. It just has cuts. The hope is that those cuts will force consumers to be smarter shoppers and doctors to be more economical and states to be more innovative. But all that’s been tried, and it hasn’t been enough .... What Ryan has here isn’t so much a plan to control spending as a plan to cut spending, whatever the consequences.

Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo:

[B]y any reasonable standard, that's getting rid of Medicare. Abolishing Medicare. Phasing it out. Whatever you want to call it. Medicare is this single payer program that guarantees seniors health care, as noted above. Ryan's plan pushes seniors into the private markets and give them a voucher. That's called getting rid of the program. There's simply no ifs or caveats about. That's not cuts or slowing of the growth. That's abolishing the whole program. Saying anything else is a lie.

Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal/New York Times:

It’s going to be just like the Social Security fight, only worse: once again, Very Serious People will pretend not to notice that the Republican plan is a giant game of bait-and-switch, dismantling a key piece of the social safety net in favor of a privatized system, claiming that this is necessary to save money, but never acknowledging that privatization in itself actually costs money.

Matthew Yglesias, Think Progress:

The idea here is that today’s old people—a very white group that’s also hostile to gay rights, and thus sort of predisposed to like conservative politicians—will also get to benefit from an extremely generous single-payer health care system. But younger people—a less white group that’s friendly to gay rights and thus predisposed to skepticism about conservative politicians—will get to pay the high taxes to finance old people’s generous single-payer health care system, but then we won’t get to benefit from it. This is in part in order to clear headroom in the budget so as to make gigantic tax cuts for rich people affordable.

David Brooks, New York Times:

Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is scheduled to release the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes. Ryan is expected to leap into the vacuum left by the president’s passivity. The Ryan budget will not be enacted this year, but it will immediately reframe the domestic policy debate. His proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones:

Courageous. Serious. Gutsy. I imagine that within a few days this will be the consensus view of the entire Beltway punditocracy. A plan dedicated almost entirely to slashing social spending in a country that's already the stingiest spender in the developed world, while simultaneously cutting taxes on the rich in a country with the lowest tax rates in the developed world — well, what could be more serious than that? I think I'm going to be sick.

Steve Benen, Political Animal/Washington Monthly:

[M]y biggest fear is that the D.C. establishment will start to assume that Brooks is correct. He's not. Ryan's budget plan is stark raving mad. "Courageous"? To the extent that a major political party and House majority is actually willing to rally behind such extremism -- without a hint of shame or trepidation -- I'll gladly give Republicans credit for actually putting their ridiculous wish list on the table. But in this context, real, meaningful courage requires sound judgment, not just a willingness to fight for millionaires and corporations, while screwing over the elderly, the poor, the disabled, and working families.

Jim Geraghty, Campaign Spot/National Review:

The public reaction to this will tell us a lot about how serious we are as a country. If the response is general support, or “I think we need something like this, but would want to change this part here or that part there,” we’ll be okay. If there’s a general recoiling and rejection, and a preference to cling (bitterly?) to the notion that small-ball cuts in discretionary spending will be sufficient to control the debt, then we’re doomed.

Peter Robinson, Ricochet:

Paul Ryan's document is historic. By cutting more than $4 trillion from the budget over the next decade, it exceeds the recommendations of the budget commission President Obama established (and then ignored). For that matter, it exceeds the fondest hopes of nearly everyone I know, including the most ardent members of the Tea Party.

Michael Shear, Caucus/New York Times:

Mr. Ryan and his budget team have not designed a grand bargain that would weave Republican philosophy with Democratic ideas, like a permanent end to the Bush-era tax cuts, or proposals that might make Republicans queasy, like deep cuts to defense. Rather, Mr. Ryan and Speaker John A. Boehner appear to have calculated that Republicans hold the upper hand politically, and that by going first they can set the terms of debate over how to handle the debt. Packaging long-held Republican ideas into a huge shift in policy, the lawmakers are betting that voters will focus less on the individual things they don’t like and more on the overall impression of the party’s fiscal discipline.

Megan McArdle, Atlantic:

Expect there to be a lot of angry back and forth over this in the next week or so. But one thing to keep in mind is that this Medicare plan is not effectively very different from what the Democrats claim ObamaCare is going to do: which is to say, cap the amount of money spent on providing health benefits to those who are not rich enough to opt out of the public system. The Democrats want to do so by having a central committee of experts decide what our health dollars get spent on; the GOP wants to put those decisions into the hands of consumers.

Andrew Sullivan, Daily Beast:

[T]he leaked outlines are highly encouraging .... The Dems, in my view, should neither dismiss nor demonize it. The fiscal crisis is real. But the Dems can suggest tax increases, like the ones above, as well as spending cuts, as the Tories have done in Britain. It's a win-win if that happens.

Jonathan Cohn, New Republic:

Based on what we know so far, the Republican plan for Medicare would appear to be one part hypocrisy and one part con. Republicans have spent much of the last two years attacking President Obama and the Democrats for cutting Medicare spending, as part of the Affordable Care Act. Now those same Republicans appear to be proposing cruder, deeper cuts that would, for all intents and purposes, destroy the program.

Andrew Stiles, Corner/National Review:

How will Democrats respond? By drafting a counter-proposal? Perish the thought. Apparently, Democrats have resisted the urge to wait until the final details of Ryan’s plan are revealed to pass judgment, and are already seeking to score political points by attacking it for daring to touch Medicare and Medicaid. They just can’t wait to tell you what Paul Ryan has in store for grandma and grandpa.