(Paul Ryan is the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. This post appeared on his blog.)
From this year’s $1.6 trillion deficit to Medicare’s $38 trillion projected shortfall, our fiscal outlook is clear: America is on a path to bankruptcy. This is no longer news and no longer debatable. What remains in question is, what are we going to do about it?
Washington has long been aware that, unless reformed, our largest entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — will go bankrupt and, in the process, deal a crushing blow to our budget and economy.
Both Republicans and Democrats share the blame for allowing this looming crisis to worsen, and the recession and the past year’s explosion of federal spending have greatly accelerated our nation’s day of fiscal reckoning.
We no longer have the luxury of time for simply rehashing the problem; delay means the problem will become worse and more difficult to fix. We need to act.
Key in the federal government’s arsenal for correcting this dire trajectory is the annual budget. Regrettably, the president’s proposal to Congress not only failed to meet this challenge, but it also failed to even try.
The most candid expression of this sidestep can be found on Page 146 of his budget: On top of the page is a summary table of the president’s actual budget numbers, which show a simple continuation of the unsustainable path of ever-higher spending, taxes, deficits and debt. Immediately below this table is a large box acknowledging that the budget numbers are unsustainable and calling for a commission to fix the situation. The executive order creating this panel says: “The fiscal commission is charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long term.”
In short, the president’s budget simply delegates to an ad hoc commission the task of producing a credible, sustainable budget — one of the most basic but critical tasks that the president and those of us in Congress are elected to do. This handoff of responsibility reflects a disappointing lack of leadership by the president. And I fear his Democratic colleagues who control Congress will follow suit.
The failure to address our deteriorating fiscal outlook in this year’s budget is disappointing enough. But it gets worse: The majority is apparently planning to use reconciliation instructions from last year’s budget resolution to jam through a new, trillion-dollar health care entitlement.
So, literally in the same month, the Democratic Congress is likely to both take a pass on addressing our fiscal problems and use a fast-track budget procedure aimed at controlling the size of government to create a brand-new entitlement — when we have no idea how we are going to pay for the ones already on the books.
Instead of blindly adding to the problems, we need to start tackling them before they tackle us. The president recently noted that those in Washington who propose real reforms to our entitlement programs risk having their proposals mischaracterized and demagogued and their motives questioned. I am acutely aware of this concern. But avoiding political hits is not an acceptable excuse for failing to govern.
I believe Americans expect those they send to Washington to govern to actually do so — especially when it’s tough. Republicans have consistently offered alternative solutions to spur economic growth, create jobs and get control of our fiscal situation.
In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues on the House Budget Committee, the Republican leadership and other members of the Republican Conference to craft the GOP budget alternative to the majority’s budget resolution. And just as we have for the past two years, we will produce a budget alternative that begins in earnest to tackle our greatest fiscal challenges and get the budget and the economy on a sustainable path.
I have also introduced my own plan to meet our greatest domestic challenges, while getting our budget and economy back on a sustainable path. A Roadmap for America’s Future is a complete legislative proposal that will achieve the following: 1. provide health and retirement security for all Americans; 2. lift the debt burden from future generations; and 3. promote American job creation and competitiveness.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Roadmap achieves its goals of paying off government debt in the long run, while securing the social safety net and making possible future economic growth.
The Roadmap is not a budget — which typically plans for a five-to-10-year window. It is a long-term plan I offered with the hope that it would spur real action in addressing these critical issues. Because how we address this crisis — how we budget and how we govern — will have profound repercussions for the quality of our nation’s future.
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