Abundantly Clear What “Makes Sense” to Republicans

Where has Timothy Geithner been in the last two years? Not much in Washington DC, one imagines, or he would have known better than to pretend that Republicans haven’t come up with a plan to address the United States’ fiscal crisis.

The Treasury Secretary suggested on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that if Republicans didn’t like the financial proposals that the administration has made, “they have to tell us what makes sense to them. And then we can take a look at it. But what we can’t do is try to figure out what makes sense to them.”

Obviously not but the secretary doesn’t have to. Republicans have made quite clear what “makes sense to them” in recent years. Perhaps the clearest budget proposal was Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan’s who wrote the party’s alternative budget for the fiscal year 2012 that all Republican members of the House of Representatives voted for in April of last year. It achieved more than $6 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years and even then would barely balance the books by 2012. Democrats, nevertheless, chastised it as a “reckless” plan because it cut spending too deeply and privatized Medicare, the entitlement program that finances health care for seniors. Read more “Abundantly Clear What “Makes Sense” to Republicans”

Republicans Look for New Leader After Election Defeat

Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana speaks in New Orleans, June 27, 2011
Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana speaks in New Orleans, June 27, 2011 (Marine Forces Reserve)

Republican Mitt Romney’s defeat in last week’s presidential election in the United States has opened the discussion to who might run in the party’s primary for the election of 2016. Several of the men who contested this year’s nomination may have another go at it four years from now as could a number of prominent Republicans who were urged to run or rumored to be considering to but ultimately decided against it.

After losing two presidential elections in a row with men whom many conservatives considered right of center at best, their instinct will be to push for a more reactionary candidate in the next primary election. To the extent that the party needs to nominate someone who can clearly and convincingly article Republican governing philosophy, that instinct is correct. Neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney was able to reach beyond the party’s shrinking base constituency and make the case for free enterprise and limited government.

Whether the party shouldn’t moderate its positions on cultural issues is more doubtful. Denying climate change, arguing that abortion should be criminalized even for rape victims and gay partnerships not legally recognized in any way isn’t going to endear the party to middle-class and young voters who might lean right — or will, once they own a home and have a family — but are appalled by some conservatives’ uncompromising social views. The party’s hardline immigration policy, which seems more focused on keeping illegal immigrants out than getting ambitious and hard-working people in, worries especially Hispanic voters of whom 44 percent voted for George W. Bush in 2004 but just 27 percent threw their support behind Mitt Romney this year. Read more “Republicans Look for New Leader After Election Defeat”

Democrats Face Crucial Choice on Entitlement Reform

Even if Democrats hold on to the presidency and their Senate majority in November’s election, it is almost inevitable that they will have to do entitlement reform with Republicans in Congress. Time is running out to preserve the social safety net programs which, even more so in the last four years, tens of millions of American have come to depend on.

Forty-six million senior Americans are currently on Medicare. More than fifty million are on Medicaid, which finances health care for the poor. Fifty-two million receive Social Security benefits. Five million receive Supplemental Security Income. Seven million receive unemployment insurance. Nearly 47 million are on food stamps or benefit from other nutrition programs.

In 2010, these entitlements accounted for $2.1 trillion of federal spending or 66 percent of the budget. Spending on unemployment benefits and food stamps will likely come down as the economy recovers. For comparison, four years ago, before Barack Obama became president, 32 million were on food stamps. But the costs of the three largest entitlement programs are expected to continue to increase, largely as a result of changing demographics. Read more “Democrats Face Crucial Choice on Entitlement Reform”

Ryan’s Struggles Betray Party’s Foreign Policy Rupture

Foreign policy was once the purview of the Republican Party but since it launched two major wars in the Middle East with no exit strategy and no plan to pay for it, the party has found itself in quite the bind. Contrast this with President Barack Obama’s record of ending an unpopular war in Iraq, toppling Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya with minimal use of force and no American casualties and the much hailed “pivot” to East Asia and Mitt Romney’s task to win back his party’s advantage on the subject becomes even more of an uphill climb.

The Republican candidate has been particularly critical of Obama’s alleged “apology” tours. This focus on the incumbent’s attempts to improve America’s standing in the world may stem from Romney’s misfortune of representing a strikingly diverse constituency on foreign policy as compared to George W. Bush eight years ago.

The party’s attempt to unite a warmongering neoconservative establishment with an anti-war libertarian constituency was perhaps no more evident than at this year’s convention. Glossed over in Clint Eastwood’s “old man and a chair” performance was the actor’s call for the United States to “get out of Afghanistan!” — a call that ignited raucous cheers from the crowd. (Imagine the reaction if a speaker did that in 2004.)

But true to form, the crowd listened and cheered afterward when Mitt Romney called for more confrontation in the Middle East. Read more “Ryan’s Struggles Betray Party’s Foreign Policy Rupture”

Ryan’s Medicare Plan Would Lower Insurance Costs

Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday fiercely criticized his Republican opponent Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. The Wisconsin congressman’s proposal to subsidize seniors’ private health insurance plans would “eliminate the guarantee of Medicare,” said Biden during a televised debate between the two candidates.

In fact, in the second iteration of his plan, Ryan, who chairs the House of Representatives’ budget committee, preserved Medicare as an entitlement. He eliminated it altogether for Americans under the age of 55 in his original, 2011 budget and replaced it with a voucher program but revised that approach earlier this year. Read more “Ryan’s Medicare Plan Would Lower Insurance Costs”

Majority Florida Seniors Favor Ryan’s Medicare Plan

A slim majority of elderly voters in the state of Florida appears to approve of Congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare, the social insurance program that finances health care for seniors.

The politician from Wisconsin became the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate last week. It was assumed that his controversial Medicare reform plan, which would either replace directing health-care payments with a subsidy or at least give seniors the option of buying a private insurance plan, would jeopardize the party’s chances of winning Florida in November’s presidential election. With 29 electoral votes, the state could provide decisive if the race is as close as opinion polls suggest.

Two surveys conducted since Ryan’s selection suggest that voters over the age of 65 support his plan more than younger voters do, however. Read more “Majority Florida Seniors Favor Ryan’s Medicare Plan”

Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan is Far from Radical

Since he was announced by Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney as his running mate on Saturday, Democrats have been quick to attack Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “extreme” and “radical.” But it’s far from either.

Ryan struggled in an interview with Fox News’ Brit Hume on Tuesday to describe the details of the fiscal plan he authored but was forced to admit that it wouldn’t balance the budget “until the 2030s.” Indeed, the plan, which was the second Paul wrote as chairman of the House of Representatives’ budget committee, doesn’t foresee a balanced budget before 2040.

The vice presidential candidate added, “if we get the economy growing, if we get people back to work, we balance the budget in ten years.” That may be possible — higher growth will increase tax revenue — but the campaign hasn’t put out specifics to support his statement.

What is clear, as Ryan said, is that President Barack Obama “never once, ever, has offered a plan to ever balance the budget. The United States Senate, they haven’t passed a budget in three years.”

The president’s budget proposals have forecast deficits close a trillion dollars for another decade. His only concrete plan to reduce the shortfall is to raise taxes on incomes over $250,000 which, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, would yield $829 billion in deficit reduction over the next ten years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that deficits over the same period will add $6.7 trillion to the national debt. A simple tax increase on “the rich” would therefore accomplish relatively little. Read more “Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan is Far from Radical”

Does Ryan Help or Hurt Romney in Swing States?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday has energized the conservative base in America which sees in Ryan a stalwart fiscal conservative but his very credentials could hurt the ticket in swing states that will likely determine the outcome of November’s election.

Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman who chairs the House of Representatives’ budget committee, was the author of the Republican budget proposal that included reform of the Medicare social insurance program which finances health care for seniors. Read more “Does Ryan Help or Hurt Romney in Swing States?”

With Ryan, Romney Makes Election Ideological Contest

At a press conference in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday, Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan would be his choice for the vice presidency. With the Wisconsin congressman’s name on the Republican ticket, November’s presidential election will truly be one of contesting ideologies.

Ryan rose to national fame last year when he authored the Republican alternative budget for fiscal year 2012. It included more than $6 trillion in deficit reduction for the next ten years, $4.4 trillion more than President Barack Obama’s but largely achieved through spending cuts, not tax increases.

In his budget, Ryan also proposed to phase out Medicare, a federal program that finances health care for seniors, and replace it with “premium support” subsidies. In a speech at the Hudson Institute in 2009, he had explained his philosophy for what Democrats said was privatizing Medicare. “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.” Read more “With Ryan, Romney Makes Election Ideological Contest”

Ryan: “We Want to Avoid a Debt Crisis”

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan defended the Republicans’ deficit reduction plan on Sunday which would slice $5.3 trillion from President Barack Obama’s budget over the coming decade through tax reforms and sweeping program cuts.

“We have the most predictable economic crisis, a debt crisis, coming in the country and to ignore it is wrong,” Ryan said during an appearance on CBS News’ morning talk show Face the Nation.

The Republican chairman of the House budget committee accused the president of making the situation “worse” and pointed out that the United States Senate “hasn’t passed a budget for a thousand days. They’re not even trying to solve this problem,” he lamented.

The Republican proposal, which Ryan authored and presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsed last week, aims to shrink the deficit by more than $3 trillion over the next ten years.

Ryan introduced a similar budget last year which was lambasted by Democrats in Congress and the White House because it would have privatized federal health support for seniors while reducing the tax burden on businesses and high-income earners.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said that she would not “reduce the deficit or subsidize tax cuts for the rich on the backs of America’s seniors and working families.”

The president complained that the Republican approach would leave seniors “at the mercy of the insurance industry.” He proposed to “strengthen” the Medicare program instead by empowering an advisory board to achieve $100 billion in savings over the same period that Medicare costs are projected by the Congressional Budget Office to increase by $300 billion.

The Medicare trust fund is expected to fall into deficit in 2024. $100 billion in short-term cuts without fundamental reform of the program would only delay its inevitable collapse.

Ryan on Sunday said that he wanted to “get rid of the board and put fifteen million seniors in charge of their own Medicare instead of having these fifteen bureaucrats make those decisions.”

Even if his latest proposal allows retirees to stay on Medicare while offering them the option of a subsidy to buy private health insurance, Democrats have characterized Ryan’s plan as an attack on seniors again.

Vice President Joe Biden on Friday urged retirees in the state of Florida, which could prove critical in determining the outcome of November’s presidential election, to look into their “hearts” and ask themselves, “who do you believe is genuinely committed to preserving the dignity of people in terms of their health care and their basic, basic ability to live?”

For all the condemnations of Ryan’s plan, he would have the federal government spend nearly $4.9 trillion in 2022 which is just 13 percent less than the president’s proposed spending that year. That is compared to over $3.6 trillion in federal outlays this year.

As a share of gross domestic product, Ryan’s budget would trim outlays from more than 23 percent this year to just under 20 percent in 2022.

Neither the president’s plan nor Ryan’s actually balances the budget over the next decade.

Ryan does not propose reform of the Social Security system which pays pensions for seniors (even if the program’s trust fund is projected to be depleted between 2036 and 2040) but does call for decentralization of Medicaid which finances health care for the poor. Republicans would block grant Medicaid payments to state governments and enable them to rein in costs however they see fit.

Personal tax rates for high-income earners would be reduced from 35 to 25 percent in order to stir investment and job growth. As Ryan points out, eight out of ten small businesses in America file their tax returns as individuals. A tax increase, which President Obama supports for people making over $1 million per year, would impede their ability to expand, according to Republicans.

Ryan on Sunday argued that he would simultaneously clean up the tax code by removing exemptions and loopholes and “bring at least as much revenue into the government as we’re bringing in now but in a fairer way so everyone pays the same tax rate when they make the same amount of money instead of picking winners and losers in Washington.”