An Update on Ryan's Dilemma

Blog Post
Thursday, March 24, 2011

Budget-watchers in Washington are quite interested in how Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, will write a budget that will achieve the numerous and sometimes conflicting aims of his conference. The difficulties facing him are the subject of a recent Concord Coalition issue brief, which we just updated to reflect the new numbers from the CBO's Preliminary Analysis of the President's Budget. 

Ryan faces the need to show noticeable progress on deficits (within at least five to 10 years) because the new Republican majority feels one of the main reasons they were elected in November was because voters were angry about large deficits. He also faces a group of freshmen Republicans who were elected on platforms that primarily called for cuts in non-defense, discretionary programs, while promising to protect defense spending, cut taxes, and not talk too much about the long-term spending challenge in popular entitlement programs.

As the issue brief illustrates, through a hypothetical Republican budget plan, it will be impossible to show progress on short-term deficits if the only policy lever Republicans use is domestic discretionary spending cuts. A second hypothetical shows that even if Republicans venture into Medicare reform and defense spending restraint, it will still be difficult to produce a budget that lowers debt levels, even over a 10-year period.

We point out that the real model House Republicans need to follow is one that puts everything on the table, as the recent bipartisan deficit commissions did. A comprehensive plan, like the one being worked on in the Senate and called for in the recent letter from 64 Senators to the President, has the best chance of reaching sustainable levels of debt for the future.

But, as our recent press release on that letter pointed out, it isn't clear the House is ready to take this approach -- yet they must be willing to at least discuss the effort with senators and the President if progress on this vital issue is to be made any time soon. And isn't that what they were elected to do?

Update: Read both Matt Yglesisas and Ezra Klein's blog posts about our issue brief. Also check out our video summary on the sidebar.