Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the Republican Party's de facto leader on fiscal issues, on Tuesday released details of the House GOP's budget-deficit plan, a sweeping proposal that would dramatically reduce the size of government and overhaul health insurance programs that millions of Americans rely on. But for such a radical document, the consensus is that it looks awfully familiar — to the plan that Mitt Romney and Ryan ran on when they lost the presidential election last November.
Ryan's plan would cut spending by $4.6 trillion over 10 years, transform Medicare into a voucher program, and fund Medicaid through block grants, which would gives states greater control over the program's administration. The plan would balance the budget by 2023, all with no new taxes. In addition, Ryan's budget would repeal President Obama's health care reform law, scaling back an expansion that is designed to provide basic care to 40 million uninsured Americans.
The plan's similarity to the one rejected by voters in November took some commentators aback. "Like some sad fiscal remake of the movie Groundhog Day, this is also the same as Ryan's 2012 'Path to Prosperity' budget, and very much like Ryan's 2010 'Roadmap for America's Future' budget, only with a repeal of ObamaCare mystifyingly included," writes Heidi Moore in The Guardian.
Ross Douthat of the New York Times complains that it's a step backwards, "a document that's arguably more unrealistic than the previous versions of the Ryan budget, and that does little or nothing to bridge the gap between the Congressional GOP and the electorate that just re-elected Barack Obama."
Democrats have already started attacking Ryan over the proposed changes to Medicare, namely a switch to a "premium support" model that would give seniors subsidies to buy their own health insurance on the private market. As Rick Newman of U.S. News & World Report writes, it would "only cover part of the premiums, forcing seniors to pay the difference, which would be a sizable expense."
But for all the budget's dramatic changes, Ryan left some programs entirely intact. Social Security, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein points out, was apparently too hot to handle:
The third rail of American politics remains quite electric. "In a shared call for leadership," Ryan says, “this budget calls for action on Social Security by requiring both the President and Congress to put forward specific ideas and legislation to ensure the sustainable solvency of this critical program." In other words, no details. [Washington Post]
And defense spending, another budget gobbler, was also spared, apparently at the expense of a host of programs. According to Lori Montgomery at The Post:
Ryan proposes to cut another $1 trillion from "other mandatory" programs, including farm subsidies, food stamps, student loans, and federal worker pensions, though he does not explicitly detail those cuts. And he would reduce agency spending by $250 billion beyond the automatic sequester cuts that took effect this month, while restoring $500 billion to the Pentagon. That suggests unprecedented cuts to domestic agencies, though Ryan, again, provides no details. [Washington Post]
That Ryan would leave out Social Security and the Pentagon has riled both liberals and conservatives, though for different reasons. As Derek Thompson at The Atlantic writes:
After all, it's hard to win a Republican election if you abandon old voters and the defense industry. As for health care and cash support for the poor? That's where the hammer hits. [The Atlantic]
On the other side of the political spectrum, the Heritage Foundation takes Ryan to task for not being bold enough with his cuts:
And discouragingly, like last year, there is no Social Security reform at all. This is especially disappointing, given the current discussions of commonsense, simple reforms like increasing the retirement age or moving to a more accurate measure of inflation like chained CPI. [Heritage Foundation]
Still, it's a remarkably conservative document coming so soon after the election, and more evidence that the Republican Party remains committed to its core fiscal message despite calls from some conservative commentators for reform.