Today the Concord Coalition released this issue brief on the challenges confronting House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. The bind that Republicans are now in is that, despite having complained about the fiscally-irresponsible Democrats’ health reform bill which they claimed was a “jobs killing” and “deficit increasing” one, now few if any of them–now that they’re in charge–seem willing to come up with their own specific proposals to actually cut Medicare spending. (Another “bind” they’re in relates to the No New Taxes pledge–also inconsistent with deficit reduction despite what Grover Norquist likes to rant about.)
The Republicans’ bind over health reform reminds me of the bind that the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats got themselves into over the “fiscally-irresponsible” Bush tax cuts that they argued were responsible for the huge deterioration in the budget outlook. Once those Democrats were put in charge, we quickly realized that even they weren’t actually willing to let go of those fiscally-irresponsible (then-)Bush(-now-Obama) tax cuts.
So what kind of budget would Ryan need to write that would honor his stated commitment to deficit reduction? As the Concord issue brief concludes (emphasis added):
So the dilemma is plain. A budget that uses honest numbers and reflects Republicans’ current policy preferences will result in large continuing deficits with growing debt and growing interest costs. On the other hand, a budget that shows greater progress on reducing the deficit will, of necessity, require an openness to changes that Republicans have been reluctant to put in play such as defense cuts, revenue increases and entitlement reforms that could affect current beneficiaries.
Ideally, the Republicans will take this second route — acknowledging the unpleasant realities of the federal budget and presenting the serious and specific fiscal reform plan that they have promised the American public.
A good place to start would be to give closer consideration to the recommendations of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson and Rivlin-Domenici commissions. They put everything on the table, including defense cuts and tax reforms that increase revenues by limiting tax “entitlements” — federal subsidies administered through the tax code. The commissions also include savings from Social Security and Medicare reform, but for those programs the focus must be on cumulative savings stretching beyond the 10-year window.
Republicans have criticized the President for failing to incorporate more of the policy recommendations of his own fiscal commission in his proposed budget. The question now is whether they will do any better.
In fact, the greatest area of overlap between the Obama Administration’s budget and the Republican budget is likely to be their common lack of any of the most fundamental and significant solutions as recommended by any of the fiscal commissions/task forces/study groups.