While President Barack Obama wants to invest in education and infrastructure, the new conservative majority in the House of Representatives is talking about how much spending to cut. House speaker John Boehner as well as his new budget committee chairman Paul Ryan discussed their plans to reduce spending this Sunday.
Ahead of November’s congressional elections, Republicans pledged to rein in spending, somehow, short as they were on details. Less than two weeks ago, Republicans in the House unveiled several tens of billions worth of austerity measures — far less than the $100 billion they promised to cut during their first year in power.
According to Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, it’s just a start. “The spending limit measure marks another step in House Republicans’ continued efforts to change Washington’s pervasive culture of spending,” he explained.
The need for fiscal restraint has never been greater. The Congressional Budget Office has warned that unless serious spending reductions are enacted, the federal government will continue to spend hundreds of billions — if not trillions — of dollars it doesn’t have all through this decade. Under current projections, the national debt will equal 100 percent of GDP by 2021.
At this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Ryan recognized that the nation’s debt crisis isn’t merely a fiscal challenge. “It’s a moral challenge involving questions of principle and purpose,” he professed. “The size of the budget is a symptom of deeper causes, and it points to different ideas about government.”
Society’s potential problems are unlimited, so a government that would solve problems without limit must necessarily have power without limit to do it.
On Fox News Sunday, the congressman rallied specifically against deficit spending. “Today’s deficits means tomorrow’s tax increases and that costs jobs,” he said. “We just don’t buy into this neo-Keynesian belief that you’ve got to borrow and spend more money today to try and create jobs.”
Speaker Boehner told the same program last week that “there’s no limit to the amount of spending” his members are willing to cut. He reiterated that commitment on Meet the Press Sunday, adding, “We’re broke.”
In his State of the Union address, the president called for a five year freeze in domestic discretionary spending which excludes entitlements as well as defense. “Locking in that level of spending is way too much,” said Boehner. But he wouldn’t propose specific entitlement reforms either which are necessary to restore long-term balance to the budget.
Ryan has thought about entitlement reform. He would phase out Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher program and dismantle Medicaid. “Rather than depending on government for your retirement and health security, I propose to empower people to become much more self dependent for such things in life,” he said in 2009.
The president’s own debt commission proposed a series of less radical reforms in November but even their plans were lambasted by Democrats who regard austerity measures as cutting “crucial” social programs or, in the words of The New York Times this week, “critical functions that only the government can perform.” (That newspaper seems to believe that defense cuts can balance the books even as the military’s total budget doesn’t account for even half of the deficit.)
While the Democratic leader in the Senate says that Social Security is just fine and doesn’t need to be reformed, Ryan urged the president to challenge his own party and come up with some bold proposals. “Presidents are elected to lead,” he said, “not to punt and this president has been punting.”