Follow Ryan on Twitter
In yesterday’s Washington Examiner, Michael Barone wrote:
[Obama] blithely ignored the recommendations of his own commission headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. He has said since he would take a look at raising the Medicare eligibility age -- it's now lower than the Social Security age.
But anyone can take a look at a proposal. We pay presidents a good salary to lead, not just to look.
So far the Republican presidential candidates have not done much leading on entitlements either. They have tended to take a gingerly approach to Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal and Newt Gingrich even trashed it.
The conventional wisdom is that this is simple political prudence. Don't give the other side a juicy target.
But we are faced not only with a huge short-term budget problem but with the prospect of a Western European future of an enlarged government, ever higher taxes and lower growth. Is that really what American voters want?
President Obama has shown zero interest in reforming what everyone knows is the greatest threat to America’s fiscal future: entitlements’ growing burden on our economy. He has had numerous opportunities to confront this growing crisis and has hid under the covers each time.
Congressional Democrats, who grow more left-wing with each passing month it seems, show no signs of doing anything differently than Obama on this issue.
The Democrats have today become the Part of Stasis – that is, the party that keeps things as they are. Terms like “progressive” mean nothing anymore for a party bent on defending the status quo at all costs.
On entitlements (keep them as they are), tax policy (raise taxes on the rich), and job-creation (spend federal dollars to “stimulate” the economy), they have no interest in doing anything that resembles a solution to today's problems.
As Barone points out, the current GOP presidential candidates are not doing much better on this front when it comes to entitlements. Faced with town hall questions on Medicare and protestors holding signs such as “Hands off Medicare and Social Security,” they walk delicately around these issues. The web sites of the two frontrunners, Romney and Perry, offer only vague generalities on entitlement reform. Everyone knows why: as Barone points out, it’s a matter of “political prudence.”
But Republicans have become the Party of Change, whether some of them like it or not, especially on entitlement reform. After the Paul Ryan budget passed the House in April, the Republicans became the party of policy activism on entitlement and tax reform. Republican presidential candidates should take advantage of this new reality.
Three years after Barack Obama ran on the theme of change, he’s standing guard over failed policies of the previous century. Republicans are advocating 21st century ideas. Candidates should make that point over and again, especially in three main ways:
Ask Americans to help save the future. First, use the attention of the national media to explain to the American people that our current path today means higher taxes, even fewer jobs, and desperation tomorrow. It’s a given, not open to interpretation. And then ask everyone under 55 to be the generation of reform, the next "greatest generation," the generation that saves America. Ask citizens to embrace the kind of change that will save our economy for ourselves when we’re older, and our children when they reach our age. Call on Americans to live with a new tax code that gives out fewer favors in exchange for rates everyone can live with. Barack Obama never asked anything of people other than to vote for him when he talked about "change" in 2008. Republicans should call on Americans to help be part of the change, to embrace reform that affects their lives, to participate in rescuing the future.
Demand fairness in our entitlement programs. Right now, the Democrats discriminate against the young. They also favor welfare for the wealthy. Let’s change that. Republicans are offering ideas that require the wealthy to bear more of their retirement security and all of us to play a more active role in choosing future healthcare options as a way to reduce the costs that young workers have to bear. Explain these points over and over. Republicans favor fairness as a way to save the future, while Democrats discriminate in ways that will wreck the future.
Demand fairness in the tax code. End loopholes and lower rates. Those should be the only two battle cries. If, through ending a series of loopholes and exemptions, some portion of the affluent population sees a slight net increase in what they pay overall, so be it. It’s time to worry less about the pledge most congressional Republicans have signed not to raise taxes and more about a tax system that is clear, predictable, and favorable to growth.
Right now, Republican candidates do not want to rock the boat - especially on entitlement reform, but also on tax reform to some degree (i.e., what it will really mean to close loopholes, etc.). Everyone is sure that rocking it will lead to electoral disaster. But Obama and the Democrats will use Mediscare tactics anyway. That ship has sailed and will keep sailing. Republicans should beat them to the punch, get out in front of the issue, and talk straight about America's future with voters - who will be more likely to reward candidates than one might think.