Opinion

Paul Ryan Has Real Courage, Now Both Political Parties Must Come Together to Fix America's Financial Mess

Even though Congress and the president have yet to agree on a level of spending for fiscal 2011, the debate in Washington is starting to shift to other fiscal issues. Today's release of the House Budget Committee chairman's fiscal 2012 budget proposal is likely to spur much more substantive discussion and debate over what needs to be done to put our nation's finances in order. The upcoming debt ceiling debate also represents a chance to do something concrete in connection with the structural deficits that represent the true threat to our collective future.

Chairman Ryan (R-Wis) should be commended for having the courage to lead in connection with our nation's huge deficit and debt challenges. His budget proposal makes a range of specific recommendations regarding how to reduce spending and transform a range of major government programs and policies. Many of his proposals will be controversial but they deserve to be seriously considered and debated. Chairman Ryan properly recognizes that the restoration of fiscal sustainability will require tough transformational changes in many areas, including spending programs and tax policies.

Ryan's budget proposes 10-year spending cuts far in excess of the president’s proposal and deficit reductions that exceed those recommended by the National Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Commission. He does so by cutting spending much more aggressively and without raising taxes.

The proposal put forth by Ryan also includes several major transformational reform proposals, especially in the area of health care. For example, he proposes to repeal the new health care law. He also proposes to convert Medicare to a premium support model that will provide more individual choice, limit the government's long-term financial commitment and focus government support more on those who truly need it. His Medicaid reforms employ a block grant approach in order to provide more flexibility to the states and limit the governments' financial exposure. While these action have conceptual merit, wow they are designed and implemented involve key questions of social equity that need to be carefully considered.

Finally, Ryan proposes a number of other major reforms while providing varying levels of specificity regarding how his proposed cost savings and economic gains would be achieved. These include areas like Social Security reform, tax reform, federal employment and compensation reforms, and government consolidation and restructuring reforms.

Rep. Ryan is correct that our budget problem is primarily a spending one and that the solutions designed to put our nation on a more prudent and sustainable fiscal path should be heavily weighted towards spending cuts and constraint. He is also correct that we need to reform the budget process and impose tough budget controls to restore fiscal sanity. 

However, contrary to Ryan's proposal, additional defense cuts that do not compromise national security and comprehensive tax reform that raises more revenue also need to be on the table in order to help ensure bipartisan support for any comprehensive fiscal reform proposal.

Our current fiscal policy and path is both irresponsible and morally reprehensible. At the same time, the manner in which we address this challenge also raises key moral questions. Our political leaders from both parties need to be at the table with everything on the table in order to achieve sustainable success.

I look forward to seeing Chairman Conrad's (D-N.D.) Fiscal 2012 budget proposal and the results of the Senate's Group of Six ("G6") efforts, of which he is a member. The G6 is taking a comprehensive and bipartisan approach to addressing our fiscal challenges that could help facilitate bipartisan action.

President Obama needs to get in the game and provide much needed leadership to help ensure that some meaningful progress is made this year on our structural deficit challenge. He is the nation's CEO, but he has largely been missing in action to-date in connection with this critical issue.

The best opportunity to make progress this year may be the upcoming debt ceiling debate. The Democrats Plan A strategy is to raise the debt ceiling unconditionally. The Republicans Plan A strategy is to raise it conditioned on passing a Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment. Neither of these approaches have the votes needed for passage. Our country needs a Plan B and, for the sake of our founders and our families, I'm working to help make sure that we have one. After all, doing nothing is simply not a viable option.

The Hon. David M. Walker is founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative. He is the former Comptroller General of the United States.