On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled his "Path to Prosperity" budget, which would slash $6.2 trillion in spending over the next decade — as opposed to the $1.1 trillion proposed by President Obama — and overhaul bedrock programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Even critics admit that Ryan's plan is bolder than anything else Republicans have yet proposed. Of course, that makes it all the more risky, at least politically. Though polls show that Americans are increasingly concerned about the national debt, they are still hesitant to cut the programs they know and love. Will they embrace Ryan's plan? (Watch Paul Ryan outline his proposal.)
Voters don't want to give up entitlements: "You have to hand it to Rep. Paul Ryan," says Susan Milligan at U.S. News & World Report. "He clearly doesn’t read the polls, or doesn’t care what they say." Those surveys consistently show that a majority of Americans do not want to tinker with Medicare in a meaningful way. But Ryan knows that "refusing to at least tweak those programs, simply because polls show that Americans are nervous about it, is not leadership."
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It won't be easy, but Ryan is quite skilled: The bookish budget guru has a reputation as a policy-obsessed lawmaker, says former George Washington University professor Sara Binder, as quoted by The Washington Post. And "to the extent that he’s able to sort of keep his policy-wonk reputation front and center," he has a better shot than most at convincing Americans that massive spending cuts are a good idea. But even then, he faces a tough task. "Voters like short-term benefits, with the costs put off to the future," and Ryan's plan runs the opposite way.
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The timing is right: Ryan's plan "amounts to a giant gamble by House Republicans that the public is willing to accept major changes to some of the government's most popular programs," says Jonathan Weisman at The Wall Street Journal. But the fact that the debate over debt is heating up at the same time as the 2012 presidential race may help the GOP's cause, since the eventual nominee will probably embrace Ryan's plan and expose it to average Americans.
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