OPINION: Ryan budget 'cracks the silence' on fiscal challenges

We commend House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan for tackling entitlements in his fiscal year 2012 plan released Tuesday. Few elected officials, thus far, have been willing to outline a plan for reducing the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid, which is necessary for any attempt to rein in America’s out-of-control debt. Chairman Ryan has now done so. His plan is a step in the right direction as Congress works to develop a comprehensive multi-year plan that cuts projected deficits and debt. 

As co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, we and our bipartisan membership concluded that spending restraints alone cannot meet the challenges ahead. Our fiscal and economic future hangs in the balance. We believe strongly that if Chairman Ryan negotiates with the president and the Senate on the FY 2012 budget, he too will conclude that revenue increases are necessary. All parties will also have to subject defense spending to the same scrutiny now being applied to domestic discretionary spending programs.

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Chairman Ryan’s budget, however, courageously proposes substantial reforms to both Medicare and Medicaid. Like our Task Force, he would transition Medicare to a premium support system, allowing seniors to choose among competing plans on a well-regulated exchange — which should help to promote innovation and drive down costs — and capping the growth of total Medicare subsidies. Although his version of premium support is different from ours, we agree on the basic concept. He also recognizes that the Medicaid system needs significant reform, and that giving states more discretion can help to control costs. 

While we are encouraged to see Chairman Ryan confront the largest drivers of our debt, there are some particulars where we differ with his plan. For example, within a premium support system, we believe that maintaining traditional fee-for-service Medicare as an option is essential. We also think that additional safeguards will be needed under the Medicaid block-grant initiative to ensure adequate healthcare for the most vulnerable in society.

But Chairman Ryan’s budget further cracks the silence on fiscal challenges that has shrouded Washington for too long. His good-faith effort demands a serious response from others, including the president and congressional leaders from both parties.

The dynamics of this effort are straightforward. Most Republicans want only spending cuts and revenue-neutral tax reform. Most Democrats want tax increases and to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. 

Our dire fiscal situation, however, demands a combination of these approaches. Revenue increases and entitlement reforms must be part of negotiations and any final product. At the same time, we must pursue simple, pro-growth tax reform with lower rates, and preserve an adequate safety net for all Americans.

Any negotiation requires more than just one member of Congress, and it is time for both political parties to step up and fulfill their responsibilities in this critical effort. We hope the meeting between President Obama and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders marks the beginning of full engagement between the administration and Congress — not only on the 2011 budget, but the longer-term debt crisis.

Seeking compromise on a comprehensive debt-reduction plan before we reach the debt ceiling may prove difficult. Therefore, both parties should work to enact strong budget process reform that would force Congress down a path of fiscal responsibility.

Without serious reform in spending and taxes, we are heading toward an unsustainable accumulation of debt. Painful but bearable sacrifice in the coming years will prevent the destructive and unbearable consequences of inaction.


Former Sen. Domenici (R-N.M), was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Rivlin was the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office and a director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration.


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