Thomas Jefferson wrote, "To preserve independence ... we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and Liberty or profusion and servitude." Rep. Paul Ryan's Prosperity Project Budget means that Americans will get the chance to make that "election" between two competing visions of our future.
It's exciting to think of having a real choice. Americans recently have watched in despair as both major parties, when in power, engaged in reckless deficit spending for their own political gain. The only difference seemed to be one of degree.
Now Ryan, a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin, has given us some place to turn. He proposes to spend $6 trillion less than would be spent under President Barack Obama's plan and add $4.7 trillion less to the national debt. Federal borrowing under his plan would fall to 2 percent of GDP, down from the unsustainable 10 percent level we have currently. Spending overall would fall from 25 to 20 percent of GDP, which is the modern average.
To achieve such savings, Ryan has to go where all politicians hate to go, even though the whole world knows it has to be done. He cuts entitlement spending. His reforms are realistic and sensible. Medicaid would become a block grant to the states, just like the successful welfare reform of the 1990s. Medicare would be changed from an open-ended entitlement to a "premium support" model, with each senior given a fixed amount to spend on the health insurance of their choice.
Social Security changes are less defined. But many reforms have already been proposed, including personal savings accounts, raising the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living increases for affluent retirees, all of which are relatively painless and effective at bringing costs under control.
Ryan's plan can be legitimately criticized for not going far enough. It doesn't actually reduce outlays, it just reduces the growth of government spending 40 percent over the next decade. It adds almost a trillion dollars a year to the debt for the next decade and doesn't balance the budget until 2040. It's a dramatic improvement over any other plan on the table, but in negotiating terms, it looks more like a compromised solution than an opening bid.
Surely the Left wouldn't demagogue a proposal so necessary and moderate, would they? We all know the answer to that one. Nancy Pelosi accused Ryan of creating "a path to poverty for American seniors." The plan is "radical," "irresponsible" and "extreme" according to columnist E.J. Dionne. The always-hysterical Paul Krugman asserted the "savings will come entirely from ... denying medical care" to those who aren't wealthy enough.
They are correct that some seniors will pay more for health care under Ryan's plan. The status quo may be great except that it's unaffordable and must be reformed so that something is left for retirees of the future. Ryan's plan relies partially on the savings that would come from making seniors smart consumers of medical care - after all, they're famous for knowing how to get the most out of a buck.
Obama's notion is to save through "efficiencies" like electronic record keeping and payment cuts, which don't save much money but will make health care harder to obtain. His overall solution (for everything) is to tax "the rich." But in spite of the mortal blow it would deal to economic growth, even confiscating all income over $250,000 wouldn't come close to defusing the massive debt bomb we have hanging over us.
Ryan and his colleagues are well aware of their political vulnerability. They hope, with some reason, that enough Americans sense how irresponsibly we are acting toward future generations, that the previously unthinkable can now be considered. Obama and the Left hope that enough Americans are government-dependent and just want their benefits to last as long as possible. If that is so, they can punish Republicans at the polls.
This is very possibly the battle of our lifetime. We the people are the deciders. The outcome won't be determined by the politicians or the lobbyists, unions, businesses or even the media. We still have the time to pass on to future generations a better America than the one we inherited. It's all in the "elections" we make.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired physician and former state senator.