Once again Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., has demonstrated the perils of actually trying to reach a solution to the nations runaway debt problem. His budget blueprint, unveiled this week, ought to be the starting point in a negotiation that ends with a viable plan somewhere closer toward the middle. Instead, it was immediately vilified by Democrats who attacked it for cutting social programs.
Perhaps the most telling comment came a month ago when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Ryan at a committee hearing, Were not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term (budget) problem. We do know that we dont like yours.
Conventional wisdom holds that the latest Ryan budget, just like the first, has no chance of passage in the Senate and would, in any event, be vetoed by the president. It will instead become another defining document for Novembers election, attacked by Democrats as a plan that would hurt the poor, help the rich and depart from negotiated budget caps set last year. Republicans, on the other hand, will tout it as the only proposal that treats the nations debt burden realistically and in ways that wouldnt raise taxes.
Neither approach is realistic. Meanwhile, the backdrop to this worn out rerun is a set of automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to begin next January a part of the agreed consequences for failing to reach a compromise on debt reduction. The Bush-era tax cuts also are scheduled to expire then, resulting in a $4 trillion across-the-board tax hike.
Absent a real budget, Congress soon will begin allocating money based on a $1.047 trillion figure that was part of that debt-ceiling compromise last summer. These add up to a budget deal that is about as haphazard as one could imagine. They do not equate to any sort of budgeting philosophy based on priorities or long-term goals.
The president hasnt helped the situation. Last month he proposed a budget that seemed aimed mostly at Mitt Romney. It would raise taxes on dividends and capital gains on anyone earning more than $250,000 as a couple or $200,000 filing individually. He also proposed a 30 percent minimum tax on anyone earning at least $1 million, which would replace the unpopular alternative minimum tax.
But that plan, too, has no clear philosophical underpinnings other than a desire to collect a few hundred billion dollars more from the rich over the next decade not nearly enough for serious deficit reduction.
All sides seem to be operating under the assumption that it is impossible to pass a meaningful deficit-reduction compromise, resorting instead to blazing away with partisan artillery. A real solution would have to recognize the need to reorganize entitlement programs, curb the growth in defense spending and rewrite the tax code to eliminate many deductions, possibly raising revenue while lowering overall marginal rates. There ought to be room in such a solution for plenty of give and take.
Give Ryan credit for trying to start a meaningful process. The rest of the House and Senate would better serve the American people by getting equally serious about negotiating an end to a looming crisis.