In just about any contest, a score of 40–0 is a pretty impressive trouncing. In football, that’s five touchdowns, a field goal, and a safety—think Ohio State versus Northern Virginia Community College. In baseball it’s almost beyond belief. Ditto basketball. Yet that was the score yesterday in the United States Senate battle between budget offered by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R–WI) and that presented by President Obama.
The Washington spin on this could be that the Democrats were united, while Republicans suffered five defections from the ranks. Of course, the trouble is that the Democrats were united in opposition to their own President, while the Republican defections meant they held 89 percent of their membership, and one of the defections, Senator Rand Paul (R–KY) thought the Ryan plan did not go far enough.
There were two other votes held that day on the budget, neither of which garnered a majority. The Senate considered the Paul proposal, which took an even more aggressive approach to spending, and one offered by Senator Pat Toomey (R–PA), which featured more aggressive immediate cuts while leaving the big issues like Medicare and Social Security for another day.
Notice the missing link in this slate of options: Where was the budget offered by Senate Democrats? They proved their unanimous dislike of the President’s budget. They proved they know how to vote “nay.” But where was their budget? Once again, budgetary bluster gave way to a great big senatorial no-show.
They need not have agreed on a budget. They could, like the Republicans, offer up two or three for debate. Senators are, after all, proud of being members of the worlds greatest deliberative body. Instead, they contented themselves with voting against every alternative while shamelessly demogoguing serious efforts to save Medicare.
Medicare is one of the government’s most critical programs. It is also a disaster financially, bearing down on the nation with all the certainty the passage of time and demographics can muster. The chant from liberals is that reformers like Ryan want to “end Medicare as we know it.” Candygram to liberals: Medicare as we know it has already ended, the die already cast, the epitaph already written in every Medicare trustees report.
The issue is: What next for Medicare? The Ryan plan is a serious attempt to ensure that Medicare is available for seniors at costs the nation can afford. It builds on a long and bipartisan tradition in support of a personal choice/premium support model whereby seniors receive direct financial support to buy health insurance from the private sector.
Buying private health insurance sounds radical to some but not to most seniors today. Ever hear of Medigap? Or the new drug benefit called Medicare Part D? Or Medicare Choice, also known as Part C? The details may vary, but the core of the Ryan plan will likely be the reform that some President someday signs into law.
The trouble for liberals is that the Ryan approach would mean the end of any hope to foist a single-payer health care system onto the American people, and however preposterous the notion, liberals are not quite ready to give up that dream just yet. The shame for the Senate Democrats is that they refuse to even suggest an alternative to the Ryan approach.
America’s fiscal troubles include Medicare but go well beyond Medicare. Government has gotten too big and threatens to get much bigger. The Heritage Foundation recently released its own plan to get government spending under control and invigorate the economy for the long haul.
Called “Saving the American Dream,” the Heritage plan brings spending down to 18.5 percent of the economy (the traditional level of tax receipts), balances the budget within 10 years and keeps it balanced, and steadily reduces the nation’s debt burden. It achieves these goals by detailing reforms to Medicare similar to those offered by Paul Ryan and then takes on the rest of the budget with equal vigor.
The central philosophy guiding the spending reforms in “Saving the American Dream” is to identify those activities that are proper for the federal government to perform—such as paying the interest on the debt, national security, and ensuring a robust social safety net for those at risk—and cutting and often ending most everything else.
America must never turn its back on those who lack the resources to sustain themselves at a reasonable quality of life. But we must also break the habit of attempting to provide benefits of one form or another for everybody else whether they need them or not. There is no good reason for taxing the American people more heavily just so government can shuffle the funds back with bows attached.
America also needs a better tax system, one that allows individuals and families to save without penalty so they can prepare adequately for emergencies and future needs while building their own retirement security and bettering the futures of future generations. The tax system should also eliminate the disincentives facing businesses to invest today to grow and compete tomorrow. It should eliminate the distortions that misdirect the investments that are made.
And the tax system should be as simple as possible so taxpayers need not spill blood, sweat, and tears filing out tax forms and so they can be more confident that the tax burden they pay is on par with that of their neighbors. “Saving the American Dream” includes just such a tax reform proposal.
The Heritage plan was released yesterday along with five others from organizations across the political spectrum in an effort launched by the Petersen Foundation. Each organization’s plan reflected its vision for fixing America’s problems. Collectively, they offer a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the real choices the nation faces.
Even the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a national student initiative run by college students engaged in “progressive activism,” was able to offer up a plan. If a group of bright college students working with more diligence than expertise can offer up a plan worthy of inclusion alongside The Heritage Foundation, the Bi-Partisan Policy Center, and the Economic Policy Institute, why could Senate Democrats not do as much? Where is their plan for the nation’s future? As President Clinton remarked at yesterday’s Petersen Foundation event, “We’ve got to deal with these things. You cannot have health care devour our economy.”