Rep. Paul Ryan. (Photo: republicanconference)
In an apparent attempt to gain some semblance of support for the only definitive and substantive Republican budget plan, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has turned to a series of think-tank presentations for backing in the absence of support from his Congressional peers.
Introduced by Ryan in January and formally known as the Roadmap for America's Future Act of 2010, the proposal would make comprehensive changes to the Social Security program, federal involvement in health care, Medicare, Medicaid, federal spending and the tax system, primarily by extending tax cuts and privatizing or scaling back entitlement programs.
Specifically, the "Roadmap" would reduce income tax rates on high-income households, including those earning above $633,000, while raising taxes on a significant portion of middle-class families. It would also eliminate income taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, while abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. Ryan's Roadmap would also privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, discontinue the Children's Health Insurance Program and end traditional Medicare and Medicaid by replacing these programs with a voucher system that recipients would gradually be weaned off of and onto purchasing their own private health care which, according to Ryan, would provide "low income Americans with financial resources to buy their own health care coverage like everyone else."
Ryan, currently serving his sixth term and the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, speaking July 21 to a sympathetic audience at the conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said the Roadmap "isn't a plan for austerity and pain" but rather "a prudent, temperate, achievable and modest plan for prosperity that fulfills our commitment to the mission of the retirement, health assistance and other safety net programs."
Ryan appears to be attempting to build consensus among Washington's think-tanks, a major purveyor of policy ideas through reports, briefs and op-eds in the nation's most influential newspapers.
This was Ryan's second presentation on budget issues at AEI in July, which he considers "one of a small number of places in this city where the principles of freedom always receive a welcome hearing." Within days of the AEI presentation, Ryan also spoke at the Brookings Institution, and his proposal has received nods from the Heritage Foundation, which has written about the Roadmap favorably.
At AEI, Ryan argued, "Most of the time America is not under the consequential test of survival ... The bedrock principles of natural rights, equal opportunity, free enterprise, limited government and private property are not at issue. They are even taken for granted. We debate means, not ends," but that now "we live at a time when the 'ends' of America's government are very much at issue."
Citing a "Progressivist" agenda that leads to a "dreary path to welfare statism" and a skewed sense of history, Ryan said that Democratic leadership in Congress and in the White House "have convinced themselves that America's history is dubious and our foundations [are] dead wrong."
However, for all of the think-tank attention Ryan's Roadmap is receiving, it does not appear to have paralleled amounts of support in the House, even among Republicans.
This is the second attempt by Ryan to put together a comprehensive budget alternative. The first one was rejected April 2, 2009, by a House vote of 293-137, including 38 Republicans rejecting the proposal. Included in the bill was an attempt to repeal the $787 billion stimulus package (with the exception of unemployment benefits), permanently extending all of Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and a repeal of the estate tax.
Connie Mack (R-Florida), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) were among House members who voted against the 2009 Ryan proposal.
The lack of Republican support, while simultaneously offering no alternatives, seems to be a source of frustration for Ryan.
"Simply saying 'no' to the further government expansions - simply maintaining today's 'status quo' - is no longer an option: our health care sector must be reformed; our economy needs sustained job creation and real growth; and we must tackle the greatest threat to our economic and fiscal future - the crushing debt burden driven by the unsustainable growth in entitlement spending," said Ryan in a released statement at the time the legislation was introduced.
President Obama and the Congress has routinely faced rejectionist strategies from Republicans on economic issues, including a severely weakened health care reform bill from the original proposal, a lessened economic stimulus package and a proposed reduction in the Department of Defense budget on unproven weapons programs.
According to Will Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), saying "no" is still the GOP's preferred modus operandi. "There is immense pressure on Republicans to in no way cooperate with Obama," said Marshall.
Marshall argues that even the rhetoric surrounding Ryan's Roadmap pays lip service to this environment.
"The overwrought claim [in Ryan's proposal] that there's a socialist agenda or that this president has a plan to impose a European-style welfare state is another way to shut down Obama's proposals without debating its merits," said Marshall.
"Beyond that," Marshall said, "Ryan's 'Roadmap' ignores [Republicans'] own recent history."
Under the Bush administration, $5 trillion was added to the national debt.
At the same time, Marshall also points out that there's "an honesty" in Ryan's plan that "doesn't exist in the general Republican agenda," something that does not always play out well in an election year and could have an impact on this year's midterm elections.
It's a criticism Ryan's heard before.
"Some say I've created a political liability for my party. 'They'll use this against our candidates in the next election ... ' or something to that effect," said Ryan, who is facing little competition in this year's midterm election. "Americans expect to be talked to like adults, not children."
"They know our system is breaking," said Ryan, "and they are hungry for ideas and answers."