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Paul Ryan's Moment

The Wisconsin Congressman bests his critics.

10:26 AM, Mar 4, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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This is Paul Ryan's moment. If national security or social policy were at the center of debate, the Wisconsin congressman wouldn't be nearly as prominent as he is today. But President Obama wants to reshape the American economy and welfare state so that it looks more like a Western European social democracy. And since fiscal policy is Ryan's specialty, he's become the GOP point man when it comes to entitlements and health care. I continue to get emails from readers applauding Ryan's performance at the health care summit a week ago. Type Ryan's name into Google search and the fifth prompt that comes up is "Paul Ryan for President." (Ryan says he won't run in 2012.)

Paul Ryan's Moment

Rep. Paul Ryan addresses Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers.

Watch his appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews yesterday:

In other entitlement news, Ryan recently published a Politico Ideas piece on America's looming fiscal crisis. And Newsweek's website featured Reason's Peter Suderman's take on Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future.

Then there's health care reform. Ryan's deconstruction of the claim that Obamacare reduces the deficit has become a minor YouTube classic. The Wall Street Journal reprints Ryan's remarks in today's paper. Democratic politicians have not bothered to refute Ryan's arguments -- they've left that job to liberal bloggers. But even the Washington Post's Ezra Klein concedes "the 10-year cost of the bill is really only counting six years of operation" and does not question Ryan's $2.3 trillion Obamacare price tag. Klein says, instead, that Ryan "omits the information that's actually relevant for his presentation on cost control and deficit reduction."

Which information? That would be the Congressional Budget Office's conjecture that health care reform could reduce the deficit by as much as a trillion dollars in its second decade of operation. But that estimate was always couched in uncertainty. Here is the CBO:

These longer-term calculations assume that the provisions are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades. However, the legislation would maintain and put into effect a number of procedures that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time.

Those provisions include the "Doc Fix" reduction in Medicare reimbursement rates and the Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) which would mandate future reductions in Medicare. "Doc Fix" has never happened. And "the projected longer-term savings for the legislation also assume that the Independent Payment Advisory Board is fairly effective in reducing costs beyond the reductions that would be achieved by other aspects of the legislation," CBO wrote. You know what happens when you assume! We don't know what will happen tomorrow. How can we say with any certainty what will happen 11 to 20 years from now?

Drastic cuts to current Medicare beneficiaries will face fierce resistance. In a December 20, 2009, letter, CBO wrote that "It is unclear whether such a reduction in the growth rate could be achieved, and if so, whether it would be accomplished through greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care or would reduce access to care or diminish the quality of care." The actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services do not mince words when they say Obamacare will bend the cost curve upward and reduce access and quality of care.

Klein's second point is that the double-counting in the health care bill -- which counts a Medicare dollar as both reducing the program's deficit and paying for new spending -- is standard operating procedure. True enough. But Ramesh Ponnuru points out that:

Similar accounting procedures were used for the Iraq War and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, both of which Ryan supported. That’s fine as far as it goes, but there’s a difference that seems to me big, which is that Obamacare is supposedly being paid for in large part by Medicare cuts. Nobody ever claimed that Medicare cuts were going to pay for the Iraq War.

The bottom line? Despite the liberal pushback, Ryan's arguments remain compelling. (The Journal has more on them here.) Which shouldn't come as a surprise. When a politician finds his moment, everything breaks his way.

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