Entries Tagged as 'entitlement reform'

Admit it, GOP: Ryan’s Budget Isn’t Perfect

May 25th, 2011 at 1:49 pm 18 Comments

(NB: This is not addressed to any specific individuals. I also believe that supporters of the Ryan budget have every right to make their case as strongly as they can. This more addresses a particular mood.)

Maybe it’s me, but some of the intra-right debate about the Ryan budget is sounding increasingly like the debate over Christine O’Donnell in 2010: focusing more on sending a message than on advancing conservative goals.

A couple preliminary facts: the Ryan budget has NO chance of passing until 2013, and, at the moment, it is not very popular.

Knowing both of those facts
, the House Republican caucus decided to vote overwhelmingly in favor of this measure. Fair enough. Leadership had its reasons. Many House members walked the plank on this vote, and that gamble may prove to be helpful for conservatives shaping the debate in the future. That die is already cast.

House Republicans and the Republican establishment may feel the need to circle the wagons to defend that vote. That is also fair or at least understandable.

But what is dangerous is a crusade against any Republican who dares to criticize the Ryan budget. That budget is not perfect, to say the least. The Republican and conservative causes are not strengthened by an attempt to enforce a petty ideological orthodoxy (the Bush years suffered from this tendency toward uniformity).

Republicans derided Democrats for forcing through Obamacare, an ambitious, radical measure with weak popular support. Democrats and progressives twisted countless arms to impose their vision on an unenthusiastic America. The backlash from this measure helped sink Democrats across the country. Republicans should not fall into the same trap, especially for a measure that will never become law until, potentially, after the next election.

The number one electoral goal for Republicans at the moment should be putting forward the most credible, competent, and electable conservative candidates possible—not (forgive me, Mr. Chairman) fighting and dying on the hill of the Ryan “roadmap.” Passing the Ryan budget may be part of the victory for free-market conservatives, but we should not fetishize a single piece of legislation to the detriment of all else.

For those who believe that there is an entitlements crisis—no, a national emergency—that needs to be stopped RIGHT NOW!!!!—forget about the Ryan budget. It would add trillions of dollars to the debt in the next few years. Its major reforms for Medicare would not be substantially felt for well over a decade; Medicare as we know it would continue for everyone who is over 55 by the time it passes, and, for a while after that, the majority of people on Medicare would have the old-school variant.

If we are at fiscal/entitlements Armageddon, the Ryan budget is a failure. If we are not at that point, this budget may be more helpful. Under either circumstance, there is no need for such strident denunciations of those who would dare to criticize it.

Scott Brown voting in favor of the Ryan budget on the Senate floor in 2011 will do absolutely nothing to advance the cause of fiscal conservatism; indeed, voting for it may hurt that cause, since such a vote could very well hurt Brown’s chances of reelection. Though Newt Gingrich may have used inopportune language in criticizing Ryan’s “roadmap,” he is well within his rights to suggest the limitations of this plan.

Any Republican presidential candidate (or any Republican candidate at all) who wishes to distance himself or herself from the Ryan budget and propose entitlement reforms of his or her own has every right to do so. And this critique should not be necessarily confused with a forfeiture of all conservative principles. If the Ryan budget is so important for a GOP presidential candidate, then Ryan himself should run for the White House.

Sending a message to show that you’re “serious” about fiscal reform is the mere hysteria of Washington kabuki. Reducing unhelpful spending and cutting the deficit and reforming derelict programs—those are the things that really advance fiscal conservatism.

Oh, and back to Christine O’Donnell: she lost big, and Senator Chris Coons is highly unlikely ever to vote for anything closely resembling the Ryan budget. The emphasis should be less on attacking Republicans for daring to dissent and more on persuading those dissenters and the public at large why the Ryan budget is a good idea (as Ryan aims to do here). Turning one’s back on RINO traitors may be a cathartic move, but it does little to advance real conservatism. When conservatism becomes the politics of rage and exclusion, it loses; when it becomes the politics of hope and engagement, it wins.

Originally posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.


The Welfare State Goes Bust

David Frum April 12th, 2011 at 4:46 pm 75 Comments

This is part three. Click here to read the entire series.


I doubt that Yuval Levin would disagree with very much of what I wrote in the second post in this series. I expect that most Republican politicians and voters would agree too, in actions if not in words.

Republicans have repeatedly voted to extend unemployment insurance. Paul Ryan’s plan preserves Social Security. Yuval Levin’s own 5 principles for reform contemplate a healthcare system in which “the poor and the old would still have heavily subsidized coverage and much of the middle class would still have moderately subsidized coverage.”

So is this perhaps just a discussion of more vs. less? In the 1990s, federal spending as a share of GDP was reduced below 20% of national income. The crisis and the Obama response have pushed spending up to 25%. Could we translate Yuval Levin’s essay as a call to return to the old proportion?

Yes and no. Yes he’s certainly calling for spending less. (In that, I agree with him – although I doubt we’ll get back below 20% anytime soon).

But Yuval Levin is engaged in something more than hype when he says that his plan goes “beyond the welfare state.” Here’s the key line:

essentially all government benefits — including benefits for the elderly — should be means-tested …. Americans below 55 or so …  should expect public help only if they are in need once they retire. Means-testing should, to the extent possible, be designed to avoid discouraging saving and work. And private retirement savings should be strongly encouraged and incentivized, so that people who have the means would build private nest eggs with less reliance on government.

In other words: You might get some degree of state help if you need it. But you had better not count on it. And it will be delivered in ways that will open larger and larger differences between those who receive state aid and those who do not. In short: Medicaid for the old.

In other words, what we are contemplating here is not the end of the “welfare state” as most Americans use the term, a state that aids poor people. What is contemplated is the end of social insurance, at least as it applies to healthcare for retirees: a state to which all contribute on more or less equal terms and from which all draw benefits on more or less equal terms.

More to come…

Chris Matthews’ Mediscare Won’t Work

April 12th, 2011 at 12:30 pm 27 Comments

On Monday’s  Hardball with Chris Matthews, buy viagra the host made a claim that the Paul Ryan bill would “kill half the people who watch this show.”

Big claim. Yet Matthews own words were refuted earlier in the discussion.  After the panel agreed that Ryan’s bill should “scare seniors” guest Howard Fineman acknowledged that “at the same time, decease it exempts 55 and over, so it’s going to really annoy younger people who are going to at some point get — supposed to get the Medicare benefits – [those] 40 to 55…”

I’m 43, so this affects my age group the most. But if I were a senior, I would rest easy for, as the panel admitted, seniors are exempt from any changes in Medicare under Ryan’s plan.  So why then is Matthews so adamant it should scare seniors?  To scare those who vote the most even though they have no dog in the fight?

Fineman added: “all the changes are going to be for those younger people. So they’re the ones who ultimately will get screwed.”  That’s me again.  The freak-out-grandma tactic will not avert the unavoidable cuts to social programs that are nonetheless bankrupting this nation.

What’s interesting to me is that Matthews, again in an attempt to defend Medicare, offers a nugget that goes to the very heart of why the program must be reformed:  “[Medicare recipients] don’t have to save $20 million so they can pay for their medical expenses when they get older, right, which are going to get more costly as they get older.”  No, because I’m paying for it, as this April 15th will remind me yet again.  But how can long can this continue?  And it’s this inherent unsustainability (that Matthews unintentionally alludes to by citing increased costs) that should be scaring everyone.

Call it a matter of principle versus principal:

The Hardball host says: “The federal government promised that back in the 1960s, that they would take care of people who have worked their whole life for their medical costs.”  True enough. But that was nearly fifty years ago.  It was a promise based upon faulty actuarials and bogus assumptions and now, after decades of kicking the can down the road, the bill has finally come due.

Nowhere was it promised that for someone who retired today having put in on average $114,000 into Medicare, that $355,000 in average benefits would be coming their way… and paid for by an ever more squeezed generation of younger taxpayers who’ve fatalistically accepted that they’ll be lucky to see a dime of their confiscated income when they turn sixty-five — scared or not.