Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future has sparked intense debate ever since President Obama singled Ryan out during the January 29 House GOP retreat in Baltimore, Maryland. Predictably, support for Ryan's good-faith proposal to solve America's long-term fiscal crisis by transforming the welfare state for Americans under 55 years old has been divided along ideological lines. Michael Gerson, George F. Will, David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and The Economist all have kind things to say about the proposal. Liberal commentators and Democratic politicians, from administrational officials to the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, do not.
Liberals have seized on the Roadmap in order to say that Republicans want to leave seniors in the cold. Today, the Wisconsin Democratic party organized a conference call, featuring Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra of California and left-wing economist Dean Baker, devoted entirely to attacking Ryan and his plan. (Ryan participated in a conference call of his own to respond.) Meanwhile, the liberal Talking Points Memo website reports that House Democrats are planning to hold a vote on a resolution condemning the Roadmap and other attempts to introduce personal accounts into Social Security. This week's blizzard interfered with the Democrats' plans, however. Now the vote is up in the air.
The critics make two specific charges against Ryan's plan. One involves revenues. It's true that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) did not score the revenue side of the Roadmap. (It would reduce the current six tax brackets to two, replace the corporate income tax with a business consumption tax, and eliminate the Alternative Minimum, dividend, capital gains, and estate taxes.)
But that's because macro-economic volatility makes it close to impossible for the CBO to estimate revenues in, say, 2070. Instead, the CBO assumed that in the long-term, the Roadmap's revenues would be similar to the historical average of 19 percent of GDP. You can agree or disagree with that assumption, but it seems fair enough to me -- especially considering the growth potential of Ryan's tax reform.
The second charge against the Roadmap is that "ends Medicare as we know it." Yes, but only for Americans 55 or younger -- these are the same people, in other words, who face a fiscal nightmare as entitlement spending surges in the coming decades and Medicare and Social Security become insolvent.
Expect liberals to focus heavily on Ryan's "cuts" to Medicare. The Ryan camp's response is that these are a far cry from the Medicare cuts in the Democratic health care reform. The $500 billion in cuts there would affect current beneficiaries -- Ryan's do not. Moreover, in the Democratic health bill, the cuts to Medicare would be pocketed and used to pay for ... another entitlement!
There are plenty of fair and substantive criticisms to be made of the Roadmap. (Ramesh Ponnuru makes some here.) What liberals are doing is something different altogether. They are attacking the one plan the CBO says will solve America's fiscal crisis -- and they are not putting forward a plan of their own. Watch this exchange between Ryan and Geithner:
The Democrats are hiding behind their proposal for a fiscal commission. They want it to solve the problem for them. Why the silence? Because the preferred liberal solution to the fiscal crisis is tax increases, from a Value Added Tax, to Eisenhower-level marginal rates on high incomes, to higher rates on capital gains and dividends. As long as they keep the focus on Ryan's plan, liberals do not have to put forward a plan of their own. Eventually, the gambit will be exposed as a classic bait and switch. But by then it may be too late.