Paul Ryan — Still an en­ti­tle­ments re­form cru­sader?

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

Con­cern­ing Paul Ryan’s de­ci­sion to leave Congress, I am more trou­bled by its im­pli­ca­tions for en­ti­tle­ment re­form than the im­pact it may have on the

GOP agenda or the Novem­ber elec­tions.

The Wall Street Jour­nal’s ed­i­to­rial page said,

“Ryan will leave Congress in Jan­uary with no sub­stan­tial progress on (re­form­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and Med­i­caid), few law­mak­ers in­ter­ested in pick­ing up the torch, and a clear sig­nal that prospects are dim for any big over­haul in the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

En­ti­tle­ment re­form is not only the least sexy of all pro­posed leg­is­la­tion; it is the kiss of death for any would-be Repub­li­can re­former, be­cause Repub­li­cans are al­ready de­picted by left­ist dem­a­gogues as re­verse Robin Hoods and curb­ing fed­eral ben­e­fits for the poor and el­derly would just “con­firm” the slan­der.

It is tragic that we haven’t the ma­tu­rity to re­spon­si­bly dis­cuss amend­ing these pro­grams to pre­vent the in­evitable na­tional bank­ruptcy they guar­an­tee in the ab­sence of re­form.Repub­li­cans are cul­pa­ble on this, to be sure, but it’s noth­ing com­pared with Democrats, who would rather dem­a­gogue than breathe.

I have been con­cerned about these ru­n­away fed­eral pro­grams for decades but be­came es­pe­cially in­ter­ested dur­ing the Barack Obama years, when Ryan gained na­tional promi­nence for mak­ing them a na­tional is­sue — for a while.

This was Ryan at his best — a pol­icy wonk, metic­u­lously crunch­ing the num­bers, pre­par­ing the po­si­tion pa­pers ex­plain­ing their im­pli­ca­tions and pre­sent­ing them to Congress and the pub­lic in in­tel­li­gi­ble lan­guage. I was en­cour­aged when Mitt Rom­ney chose Ryan as his run­ning mate, be­cause I saw Ryan’s po­ten­tial po­si­tion as in­creas­ing the chances that the coun­try would fi­nally tackle the prob­lem.

Though the de­tails of the math might put some to sleep and ex­perts might dis­agree on the timetable for our eco­nomic de­struc­tion, it is in­dis­putable that un­less we leg­isla­tively re­form the pro­grams, the coun­try will swal­low it­self in debt. Any so­lu­tion in­volves some pain, but the longer we de­lay the greater the pain will be and the more dif­fi­cult re­form will be­come po­lit­i­cally.

Part of the prob­lem is that many have been cry­ing wolf for decades over the loom­ing dan­gers of fed­eral deficits and the ac­cu­mu­lated fed­eral debt. As no catas­tro­phe has ever mate-

ri­al­ized, it’s no won­der the pub­lic has been lulled into com­pla­cency and dis­re­gards the pre­dic­tions of doom.

It is hu­man na­ture to fo­cus more on im­me­di­ate prob­lems than on long-term ones, and Washington’s ever in­creas­ing de­mands on the pub­lic through oner­ous taxes and un­end­ing reg­u­la­tory con­trol keep us plenty busy. End­less par­ti­san war­fare also mil­i­tates against soberly ad­dress­ing this is­sue.

Some crit­i­cize Ryan for drop­ping the ball on en­ti­tle­ment re­form af­ter spend­ing years con­vinc­ing us that we ig­nore this is­sue at our own na­tional peril.

But let’s be re­al­is­tic here.

Does any­one think that in this po­lit­i­cally hos­tile, hateTrump at­mos­phere fo­mented by the me­dia and the Demo­cratic Party — with the dis­trac­tions they spawn over the Rus­sia-col­lu­sion myth — Ryan would have had a snow­ball’s chance in Hades of get­ting to first base on any en­ti­tle­ment re­form pro­posal?

Does that mean Ryan or other Repub­li­cans should aban­don re­form? No. But when you are un­der re­lent­less fire, you’d bet­ter fire back right then, or you won’t be around to fight an­other day.

And it’s not just Demo­cratic dem­a­goguery and the un­pop­u­lar­ity of re­forms that stand in the way of ac­tion but also the tyranny

of the ur­gent. Ryan didn’t choose the speak­er­ship. He even re­sisted the po­si­tion. But he even­tu­ally re­lented. It soon be­came clear that the mood of the coun­try was to work on Trump’s agenda, and that did not in­clude en­ti­tle­ment re­form. Ryan can be fairly crit­i­cized per­haps, along with many oth­ers, for the GOP fail­ure on re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare, but if he had dreams of ad­dress­ing longterm en­ti­tle­ment re­form in the short run as speaker un­der Trump, they would have been just that — dreams.

The hard, cold fact is that we do have more press­ing prob­lems than en­ti­tle­ment re­form, and we al­ways will — un­til we fi­nally bank­rupt our­selves. But the po­lit­i­cal

cli­mate has made cur­rent at­ten­tion to such re­form al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Ev­ery year, en­ti­tle­ments will gob­ble up an in­creas­ing per­cent­age of the fed­eral bud­get, so that in the near fu­ture, even dra­co­nian cuts in dis­cre­tionary spend­ing will not put a dent in the fed­eral deficit.

Peo­ple of­ten la­ment that democ­racy con­tains a poi­son pill that guar­an­tees its own demise, in that the vot­ing pub­lic will vote it­self money from the pub­lic trough and com­mit suicide by greed. (Yes, we have a con­sti­tu­tional repub­lic, but our rep­re­sen­ta­tives are demo­crat­i­cally elected.)

This poi­son has in­fected our sys­tem in mul­ti­ple ways — with the re­dis­tri­bu­tion of

in­come, cer­tain peo­ple abus­ing fed­eral power to con­trol oth­ers, and the pos­si­ble bank­ruptcy of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions at the be­hest of ir­re­spon­si­ble present gen­er­a­tions.

I have no il­lu­sions that we’re go­ing to make ap­pre­cia­ble head­way in the near term or that Democrats will ever ap­proach this prob­lem in good faith to al­low us to achieve re­form by con­sen­sus. But be­cause the bud­getary dooms­day clock is tick­ing, we don’t have the lux­ury of for­ever shelv­ing it.

As such, I am just go­ing to be Pollyan­naish for a change and humbly pro­pose and pray that af­ter Paul Ryan re­turns to his fam­ily and re­joins the pri­vate sec­tor, he carves out time from his new po­si­tion, what­ever

it is, to use his ex­per­tise and pas­sion on en­ti­tle­ments to cru­sade for re­form and keep that torch burn­ing be­fore it is too late for any­thing other than ex­treme re­form. If you say that that re­form is im­pos­si­ble, then you are nec­es­sar­ily say­ing the coun­try is headed for de­struc­tion — sooner than we imag­ine. Are you will­ing to live with that?

David Limbaugh is a writer, au­thor and at­tor­ney. His lat­est book is “The True Je­sus: Un­cov­er­ing the Di­vin­ity of Christ in the Gospels.” Fol­low him on Twit­ter @davidlim­baugh and his web­site at www.davidlim­ To read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­page at www.cre­


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