As the federal government prepares for a shutdown in the event that continued funding is not agreed to by this Friday (see the memo that was sent around yesterday, as reported by the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe), today Paul Ryan releases his own budget plan. There have been plenty of preemptive critiques of the plan from those with a completely different view of the fiscal policy world who oppose the notion that the budget can and should be balanced by cutting spending alone, but the best critics who want to avoid just making things worse recognize that the time for merely throwing barbs has passed. For example, in Monday’s Washington Post, E.J. Dionne isn’t shy about suggesting that the Ryan plan will promote “an even more unequal society”–but at the same time he praises Ryan’s character and conviction and in the end challenges President Obama to not just sit there but do something to defend “progressive government” (emphasis added):
This week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will announce the House Republicans’ budget plan, which is expected to include cuts in many programs for the neediest Americans.
The Ryan budget’s central purpose will not be deficit reduction but the gradual dismantling of key parts of government…
Put the two parts of the Ryan design together — tax cuts for the rich, program cuts for the poor — and its radically redistributionist purposes become clear. Timid Democrats would never dare embark on class warfare on this scale the other way around.
But while I am assailing his ideas, let me put in a good word about Ryan himself: He is, from my limited experience, a charming man who truly believes what he believes. I salute him for laying out the actual conservative agenda. Here’s hoping he is transparent in the coming weeks about whom he is taking benefits from and toward whom he wants to be more generous. If he thinks we need an even more unequal society to prosper in the future, may he have the courage to say so…
[The conservative agenda] is all extreme and irresponsible stuff. The president knows it. The coming week will test who he is. When Ryan releases his budget, will the president finally engage?
“This is our time,” Obama liked to say during the 2008 campaign. This most certainly is his time to stand up for the vision of a practical, progressive government that he once advanced so eloquently.
And in today’s Washington Post, (Republican) Senator Tom Coburn says it’s time to stop bickering over the little stuff and start working together–as in, with the other side and not just with the extremists in one’s own party–on the big stuff (emphasis added):
Here’s some perspective on this week’s debate: When our grotesquely obese government is borrowing $4.1?billion a day in order to function, the $29?billion gap between the House-passed continuing resolution and a possible compromise is enough to fund the government for seven days. Seven days.
What’s extreme in this debate is not our cuts but our complacency.
It’s time for politicians to tell the truth and talk in trillions, not billions. The $14.2?trillion question before us is whether discussion of our debt crisis is hyperbole and fear-mongering, or whether our debt truly is the “greatest national security threat facing our nation,” to quote Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This question is critical because until there is a consensus in the country we will never have a consensus in Washington. There is no question that the American people are deeply concerned about spending and deficits. I’m concerned their representatives do not understand how close we are to a crisis. I’ve found great fault with my friend President Obama because this national conversation should be led from a presidential podium, not by political odd couples in the Senate. But in the absence of leadership from others in Congress or the administration, I will continue to work with any colleague from either side of the aisle who is honest about this country’s fiscal peril…
The best catalyst for forcing Congress to tackle our debt crisis will be the upcoming vote to raise the debt limit. We can either appease like Chamberlain or prepare like Churchill. Appeasement means avoiding the real issue and pandering to the debt-dodgers and dogmatists in both parties who define purity not on the basis of principle but partisanship and power.
I’ve confronted the phony purists on my side and need partners on the left to confront the same on theirs. We will never address these challenges without putting everything on the table and making choices that may end careers. Of my Republican friends I would ask: What good is a Republican Party without a republic? And of my Democratic friends: What good is your commitment to the poor without an economy to sustain your commitments?
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who unveils his budget this week, deserves credit for pushing the debate toward our $14.2?trillion question. His critics who fail to offer plans of their own have little credibility.
Congress can choose a path of prosperity over austerity but only if we act quickly. History, and future generations, will not be kind to those who sleep.
So let’s hope that after Ryan releases his budget today that we’ll hear some criticism of the constructive variety, because we really don’t have time to waste on any more of that destructive bickering we’ve been doing so far. Let’s hope that a real (and adult) conversation will begin.