Paul Ryan’s win­dow of op­por­tu­nity

Capi­tol Hill must cut spend­ing to avoid debt cri­sis

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

No­body spends bor­rowed money faster than Washington. Law­mak­ers blew through $232 bil­lion in Fe­bru­ary alone, spend­ing their most re­cent $1.2 tril­lion loan at break­neck speed. House Speaker John A. Boehner in­sisted last sum­mer on mak­ing dol­lar­for-dol­lar cuts in re­turn for in­creas­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s bor­row­ing limit, but, so far, not a buck has been matched in ac­tual deficit re­duc­tion. Mr. Boehner’s push for fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity took cen­ter stage as the House be­gan its work Wed­nes­day on the 2013 bud­get.

Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ryan’s spend­ing blue­print starts the process of a ma­jor rec­on­cil­i­a­tion bill with ac­tual en­ti­tle­ment re­form ex­pe­dited for a floor vote in May. While Pres­i­dent Obama agreed in con­cept to Mr. Boehner’s de­mand for re­straint, he wanted tax hikes to make up the dif­fer­ence. Their final deal punted the decision on cuts to a su­per­com­mit­tee, with a trig­ger mech­a­nism in place to au­to­mat­i­cally se­quester funds for 10 years if it failed to meet deficit-re­duc­tion tar­gets. The se­quester was Mr. Obama’s way of forc­ing Repub­li­cans to cave on tax hikes to avoid half of the cuts hit­ting na­tional de­fense.

Democrats are pre­tend­ing the se­quester won’t hap­pen so they can keep bor­row­ing money with­out con­se­quences. The White House bud­get said the se­quester should be re­placed with tax hikes, but it gave no con­crete mech­a­nism for ac­count­ing for the first $98 bil­lion in deficit re­duc­tion. Mr. Obama thus leaves open the pos­si­bil­ity of the mil­i­tary get­ting smacked with a $55 bil­lion cut at the be­gin­ning of 2013, while troops are still fight­ing in Afghanistan.

Mr. Ryan gave rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in­struc­tions to six com­mit­tees to find at least $18 bil­lion in deficit re­duc­tion next year and $116 bil­lion over five years. His sug­ges­tions for sav­ing money in­cluded means test­ing en­ti­tle­ments and mak­ing fed­eral em­ploy­ees’ pen­sions more like the pri­vate sec­tor. Be­cause a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion bill can­not be fil­i­bus­tered, it would need just a hand­ful of Demo­cratic votes to clear the Se­nate, cre­at­ing a real op­por­tu­nity for change. This is the only way for Congress to stop au­to­mat­i­cally fund­ing those pro­grams year af­ter year, re­gard­less of the ex­pense.

Some con­ser­va­tive mem­bers of the GOP cau­cus don’t want to wait five years. Bud­get Com­mit­tee mem­ber Rep. Justin Amash, Michi­gan Re­pub­li­can, may vote against the bill be­cause of the way the se­quester is han­dled. An aide to an­other con­ser­va­tive mem­ber ex­plained the prob­lem, say­ing, “We should cut $100 bil­lion in this year, like the debt-ceil­ing deal re­quires, in­stead of de­lay­ing and spread­ing it out over the next five years. What stops us from de­lay­ing the cuts again next year?”

Mr. Ryan could have re­sorted to Washington gim­micks to pay for the se­quester by count­ing the sav­ings from re­peal­ing Oba­macare im­me­di­ately. Its repeal would save far more than $98 bil­lion, but the ben­e­fit wouldn’t kick in for a few years. Mr. Ryan’s plan of push­ing for changes to the or­di­nar­ily un­touch­able manda­tory spend­ing pro­grams is a smart move that should be em­braced.

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