Rep. Paul Ryan budget proposal released this week is, if anything, even better than last year's remarkable first draft. It is also moot. The Senate will not pass his or any other budget this year, any more than it has in the last two years.
Still, the Ryan budget is important if only as a didactic exercise. It helps keep the Republican Party focused and continues the discussion about the role of government and appropriate fiscal policy.
The most welcome component of Ryan's plan is the proper weight given to national priorities. It recognizes the ultimate role of the federal government is the protection of the nation against aggression. Ryan understands America cannot afford to allocate one penny less for defense than is necessary to protect legitimate American interests wherever they may be threatened. In this, he departs from the President and the majority of Democrats, who seem more than willing to sacrifice national security to purchase a few more years of the administrative welfare state.
After meeting that prime responsibility the proposal sets about tackling debt and economic growth.
Much in it is familiar and welcomed - a repeal of Obamacare; tax reform that broadens the base and lowers rates; block-granting Medicaid funds to the states and capping those funds. It cuts proposed spending $5 Trillion less than President intends during the next decade. And, in the most dramatic change from his previous offering proposes to inject the dying, diseased hulk that is Medicare with a free-market antidote.
Ryan would move Medicare to a premium-support system that incorporates competition among private insurance companies and away from the current government-funded fee-for-service option. It is widely understood that Medicare is the predominant agent of federal spending, resultant debt, and incessantly swelling health care costs, due in large part to the inefficiencies inherent in a fee-for-service system. This proposal takes a bold stride towards emancipating both Medicare (and the health care system in general) from inefficiencies through market competition -- essentially introducing modern economics into the health care arena.
Predictably, it did not take long for the left to display a collective indignation. The White House decried the lack of "fairness, balance, and shared sacrifice" as if those were responsible budgetary criteria. The New York Times, apparently absolving itself of any duty to read it before commenting, suggested traditional Medicare costs would increase as a result of private insurers cherry-picking healthier seniors, relegating older, less healthy ones to a traditional plan. In fact, the Ryan proposal specifically prohibits this stating, "health plans that participate alongside a traditional Medicare option in the Medicare Exchange would be required to offer insurance to all seniors - regardless of age and health status - thereby preventing insurers from cherry-picking only the healthiest seniors for coverage under their plans."
The proposal is not perfect. It falls short insomuch as it fails to address the Social Security problem; does not eliminate federal departments that have no business existing; and misses some critical details in the tax plan.
Nevertheless it provides an acceptable jumping off point for the sweeping reforms necessary in the coming years and provides the foundations for dismantling the federal administrative state that has grown out of the last century.
The measures by which to judge the Ryan budget - by which any budget proposals should be judged - are (A) its prioritization of government functions; (B) its effect on long-term debt and deficit spending; and (C) how well it promotes national economic growth. On each, Ryan's proposal, as a first step, should earn approving nods. It is a national shame that it will not be adopted, or even considered, by an apathetic Senate this year, but can provide a potent weapon in the hands of the GOP's Presidential nominee, if that nominee is wise enough to use it.
Kelly Sloan is a Grand Junction resident and Mesa County Director of Americans For Prosperity Colorado. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.