Advancing a Free Society

The Ryan Budget: The Real Choice We Face

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Here are excerpts from my post on the Ryan budget, posted at e21 yesterday:

Yesterday’s release of the draft Ryan budget offers a vision for repairing the federal budget. Thus far, this vision for fiscal repair remains the only serious legislative alternative to fiscal catastrophe.  If there is a responsible left-of-center alternative to the Ryan proposal, we have yet to learn what it is.

Some have criticized the Ryan budget as lacking political and substantive balance. And indeed, the Ryan proposal would attack federal deficits solely by constraining spending growth without raising taxes. This approach reflects the views of House Republicans, just as the Administration budget proposal reflects the President’s. This of course is how the legislative process works. Each player in the process comes forward with their preferred approach.  The main difference between the two approaches is that Ryan’s budget would actually begin to repair the fiscal outlook.

Some have invoked the Simpson-Bowles plan to reflect unflatteringly on Chairman Ryan’s proposed budget. Few people have written as extensively in support of the Simpson-Bowles efforts as I have. But unless and until a bill based on Simpson-Bowles can start moving through the Senate, the Ryan plan is the only serious game in town.

Over the last couple of years federal spending as a percentage of the economy (GDP) has soared. The Ryan budget would return spending levels to historic norms within the ten-year budget window.  Tax collections would recover with the economy but after that would also continue to remain near historic norms.

The Ryan budget would turn around the deficit situation so that our debt would become gradually more affordable over time. Under the President’s approach, the debt would ultimately exceed our ability to finance it.  Thus at present this is not a debate about how to fix the fiscal situation. It’s still a debate about whether we will do it. If the Ryan plan is taken off the table, the answer to that question remains “no” until someone produces a credible legislative alternative.

Left of center, it is an article of faith that the public would prefer to see taxes raised than to countenance the cost containment measures in the Ryan plan, especially in politically sensitive health care entitlements. The behavior of political actors belies this thesis. Only Chairman Ryan and his compatriots on the House Budget Committee seem to be sufficiently confident of public support to present their substantive case in detail.

For whatever reason, we do not yet face a choice between two alternative visions for fiscal repair. Legislatively, we have just one: the Ryan plan.

Read Charles Blahous at e21