Yesterday’s report that Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan will be delivering the GOP response to next week’s State of the Union address is welcome news, and is but the latest signal that Washington may finally — FINALLY — be prepared to tackle the nation’s fiscal and budgetary woes.
Representative Ryan has made a name for himself in recent years as that rare breed of politician who not only fully understands the labyrinthine world of budget, tax, entitlement and regulatory policy, but also has the unique ability to make a reasoned and compelling case for its reform in plain English.
Ryan has also put himself “out there” politically, with his Roadmap for America’s Future and more recently by his work with former CBO and OMB chief Alice Rivlin on a plan focusing on Medicare reform. Plenty of elected officials pay lip service to fiscal responsibility and the need for entitlement reform; few can be bothered to explain in detail how they would accomplish these goals beyond cutting spending or raising taxes.
For his part, President Obama has stated that the enormous deficits of his first two years were largely a consequence of the economic recovery measures taken by his administration, and that gaining control of our fiscal future remains a top priority. If that’s true, we’d better hear about some concrete steps in that direction, on both Tuesday night and in mid-February when the president’s budget is released. I suspect we will, and furthermore, that each speech will loudly echo the other on certain issues such as tax expenditures, discretionary spending reductions, and entitlement reform. Even defense and homeland security spending, traditionally one of the most sacred of cows in the federal budget, will likely garner a mention by one or both as a target for scrutiny.
It’s worth noting that Ryan and Obama have been having this very discussion for a while now, and I believe that both are sincere in their desire to right the ship. They are not alone — a broad-based and growing coalition both in and outside of Congress understands that decisive action must be taken, and soon. A clear first step would be to gather votes around some of the central tenets that many of the various deficit plans have in common and take those actions immediately. This small spark could very well serve to create the momentum necessary to take on the family of 800 lb. gorillas in the room (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the national debt, and debt interest).
The primary obstruction to restoring some semblance of sanity in our nation’s financial affairs has for decades been a lack of true leadership on these issues. However, the prospects of a core group of policymakers willing to work together in the name of economic growth, debt reduction, and our future fiscal security are encouraging. Let’s hope that Obama and Ryan, two of our very brightest lights in these fairly dark times, take full advantage of this opportunity to move the conversation forward.
Adam Salmon is a proud graduate of the University of Kentucky and was formerly in operations management at a DC think tank. He is currently on the prowl for a position on the Hill. Follow him on Twitter @adamjsalmon.