At the start of this Congress, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, conceded that Republicans lost their way and racked up big deficits and he said that was one of the reasons the GOP lost control of Congress.
“There’s been too much spending under Republicans over the last couple of years,” Boehner said. “Republicans will accept our fair share of the blame.”
Voters have 100 days to decide who should run the House of Representatives. And if they support Republicans, it’s likely Boehner will become Speaker of the House. The person charged with getting the GOP’s fiscal House in order could be Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Ryan’s now the leading Republican on the House Budget Committee. But nearly two years ago, the Wisconsin Republican crafted a “road map” to impose fiscal austerity, cut the budget deficit and reform entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.
In fact, so-called “non-discretionary spending” like entitlement spending accounts for two-thirds of federal outlays. And it’s “off-budget,” meaning Congress and the president don’t have a say in whether they want to spend it or not.
But there are questions about how high Ryan’s profile will be if the GOP seizes control of the House this fall. And whether Republicans will put their money where Ryan’s blueprint is and begin to implement parts of his controversial and comprehensive spending reform plan.
Still, many wonder whether Republicans have the political capital, nor the will, to implement any, let alone all of Ryan’s blueprint.
In short, Ryan’s idea would eliminate the deficit by 2063, simplify the tax code, swap out the income tax for a “consumption” tax on businesses and shred Medicare’s share of the economy from a projected 14% in 2080 to just 4%.
Ryan’s plan is ambitious. But it could take years to implement. And conceivably decades to be realized. Congress operates in two-year sprints. Lawmakers rarely see the horizon beyond the next election. Which is why Ryan’s plan could face stark prospects. Even if Republicans win control of the House.
For his part, Ryan says someone has to take the long view to save Congress from itself and what he predicts are looming, dire economic consequences.
“My point is let's get ahead of it,” Ryan said during an appearance last week on FOX. “Stop it from happening and do it on our terms instead of having this austerity plan where you cut seniors current benefits or raise taxes and hurt the economy like they're doing in Europe today.”
Regardless, there are questions as to whether lawmakers have the stomach to tackle Ryan’s ambitious program. If Republicans win the House, voters will be looking for concrete evidence of budget reforms. And it’s likely that Boehner and others in the GOP would turn to Ryan.
Ryan’s measure would cap total government spending and impose a supermajority in both chambers of Congress to raise taxes. But he plans to curb Medicare and replace it with a voucher program. Many view the cuts to Medicare as “Draconian.” However, Ryan views these changes as essential. He cites what he calls Medicare’s current “$38 trillion unfunded liability.”
“That’s $38 trillion in promises to my parents' generation, our generation, our kids' generation. Medicaid's growing at 21 percent each year. It's suffocating states' budgets. It's adding trillions in obligations that we have no means to pay for it,” Ryan said in a forum with the President Obama last winter.
Many senior citizens are already leery of the massive health care reform law approved earlier this year. So any proposal to alter Medicare benefits could potentially frighten already shocked elderly citizens who vote. Which is why Ryan’s idea could be such a controversial plan to implement.
Republicans are going to be scouring the ranks for ideas to govern if they win the House. It’s likely Ryan will be their go-to guy. But the question is whether the rank-and-file will embrace his roadmap if Republicans control House in January. Especially since the 2012 elections would be just 22 months ahead.
But for now, voters decide the midterm elections in just 100 days. And if the GOP gets its way, many eyes will be on Boehner and Ryan to determine how they solve country’s deep fiscal woes.