— Wisconsin Repub Congressman Paul Ryan, employing his customary straight talk, has squelched the buzz that he might run for president in 2012. His statement, made to a Milwaukee TV station, was frank and charming:
“I’ll give you as Shermanesque a quote as I can,” said Ryan. “I am not going to run for president. I’m just not going to do it. My head’s not that big, and my kids are too small.”
Too bad. Ryan, of Janesville, Wis., a rising Republican star and currently the top House Repub on the Budget Committee, has put on the table a complete budget alternative that the CBO says would eliminate the deficit. Ryan doesn’t say it. The CBO says it.
A couple of facts about how Ryan’s “blueprint” would do that:
Second, he does it almost entirely by restraining the growth rate of Medicare and Medicaid. And he does that by ending the conventional Medicare arrangement, under which the government directly pays the bills for seniors’ health care expenses. Instead, future seniors (the plan grandfathers in those who are already 55 and older) would receive a voucher from the government and then be turned loose to choose a health insurance plan from among several options (the menu is supposed to be modeled after the many excellent health insurance choices now available to members of Congress and other federal employees).
But here’s where it gets tough. When the plan first kicks in, the voucher would be about equal to what Medicare is spending on the average recipient (actually, CBO says it would be slightly less and, because Medicare spends less than private insurers do on administration, and nothing on profits, the quantity of health care the seniors could purchase with their vouchers would be less than the quantity used by the average Medicare beneficiary).
Then — and here is where the potentially really big savings and the potentially really big pain comes in — the voucher payment would grow over the years at a rate that CBO says would be significantly less than the scandalously high growth rate of health care costs. So after a while, the voucher would purchase significantly less health care than what Medicare pays for now. Significantly less.
The long-term projected increase in the cost of Medicare and Medicaid is, by a huge margin, the biggest factor driving the long-term debt and deficit projections into the stratosphere. Ryan’s plan holds them down to the atmosphere and that is the magic factor that knocks the federal debt picture off its current unsustainable course. But it does it by putting future seniors in a position where they will have to spend more of their own money on health care, or they will have to do with less health care.
You can call Ryan’s idea “nothing short of violent,” as Wash Post health guru Ezra Klein did. But it is ruthlessly efficient and virtually guaranteed to accomplish its goal, which is to stop Medicare and Medicaid from making the budget unbalanceable.
I am not endorsing Ryan’s plan, but I totally respect it. It is honest.
Pres. Obama said the same about it when he met with the House Repubs last week. He spoke of it with respect and made clear that he had studied it and thought about it. But he also noted that Repubs have been having fun demagoguing the really quite modest provisions of the Dem health care bill to save a little money out of Medicare by ending federal subsidies for the supplementary “Medicare Advantage” programs. He invited Ryan and the others in the room to think about what Dems could do (will do, I suspect) with the Ryan plan to portray it as a granny killer.
Maybe Ryan has engaged in some of that demagoguery, I don’t know his record that well. From what I’ve seen, he is a straight shooter, deeply conservative, intellectually honest.
Apparently, he is also willing to put on the table and defend the very politically risky and explosive facts about what America could expect if it gave power to the Repubs and if they had the guts — as they have not had for the past 30 years of pretending that they care about deficit and debt to specify what it would take to get the deficit under control.
Do Democrats have a plan that will eliminate the deficit or bring it down to a sustainable level? Ever?