It was a season of fiscal perestroika. Last fall, the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission released a bold report on how to avoid an economic catastrophe. For a few weeks, the think tanks and government offices were alive with proposals to reduce debt and reform entitlements, the tax code and just about every other government program.
The mood did not last. The polls suggested that voters were still unwilling to accept tax increases or benefit cuts. Smart Washington insiders like Mitch McConnell and President Obama decided that any party that actually tried to implement these ideas would be committing political suicide. The president walked away from the Simpson-Bowles package. Far from addressing the fiscal problems, the president’s budget would double the nation’s debt over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
But the forces of reform have not been entirely silenced. Over the past few weeks, a number of groups, including the ex-chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers and 64 prominent budget experts, have issued letters arguing that the debt situation is so dire that doing nothing is not a survivable option. What they lacked was courageous political leadership — a powerful elected official willing to issue a proposal, willing to take a stand, willing to face the political perils.
The country lacked that leadership until today. Today, Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is scheduled to release the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes. Ryan is expected to leap into the vacuum left by the president’s passivity. The Ryan budget will not be enacted this year, but it will immediately reframe the domestic policy debate.
His proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion. It will become the 2012 Republican platform, no matter who is the nominee. Any candidate hoping to win that nomination will have to be able to talk about government programs with this degree of specificity, so it will improve the G.O.P. primary race.
The Ryan proposal will help settle the fight over the government shutdown and the 2011 budget because it will remind everybody that the real argument is not about cutting a few billion here or there. It is about the underlying architecture of domestic programs in 2012 and beyond.
The Ryan budget will put all future arguments in the proper context: The current welfare state is simply unsustainable and anybody who is serious, on left or right, has to have a new vision of the social contract.
Brooks: Ryan Budget is a Game-Changer
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