Do Republicans Want to Cut the Deficit? Rep. Paul Ryan Does

Last Updated Nov 18, 2010 12:37 PM EST

The politics of deficit reduction are complex and contradictory. No sooner was the Simpson Bowles Commission report telegraphed when the networks went out and polled on the subject. Despite the revolt against government spending and the supposed referendum on the deficit less than two weeks ago, polls show that the public is opposed to the general idea of belt tightening as well as the specifics.

The Wall Street Journal had this:

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Americans skeptical of deficit-cutting proposals laid out by the chairmen of a commission appointed by the White House. In the survey, 57% of respondents said they were uncomfortable with gradually raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 over the next 60 years. Some 41% said they were somewhat or very comfortable with the idea.

Roughly 70% were uncomfortable with making cuts to programs such as Medicare, Social Security and defense in order to reduce the deficit, with 27% saying they were comfortable.

And nearly 60% said they were uncomfortable with raising tax revenue through such measures as boosting the gasoline tax, limiting deductions on many home mortgages and altering corporate taxation. Nearly 40% said they were comfortable with those ideas.

That lackluster support for tackling the tough issue of the Federal budget hasn't deterred Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has his own budget roadmap for reducing the deficit -- the only serious plan that's been presented until now. That's one reason he was a member of the Simpson-Bowles commission. Like his commission colleague Alice Rivlin, he's got his own ideas too.

Here's what Ryan has had to say in recent interviews and public appearances:

What does the commission get right?
They're basically talking about broadening the tax base, lowering the rates and that's good. We need to lower tax rates, we need a lower corporate rate, we need a territorial tax system which is very important for our competitiveness, and to lower tax rates on individuals. They're also going after spending. The commission did a good job of identifying waste in Washington, including in the Pentagon. What's missing from the commission? There are four things that I believe are the foundations of economic growth: Low and predictable tax rates; sound and honest money; regulations that are fair, transparent, reasonable and predictable; and spending cuts, controls and reforms.
The commission only addresses two of those issues, the first and the last. They're important. I believe we need to show the world that the Americans are not going to have a debt crisis, that we can get our spending under control. We need to pre-empt it. Our fiscal policy is miserable right now.
There is plenty of room to cut discretionary spending. We should take $100 billion out discretionary spending now. Savings from cutting entitlements take too long to accrue. Domestic discretionary spending grew so fast recently that we should take more of the cuts out of that.
But there's a bigger question that the commission cannot address. And that's a philosophical one. Do we print and borrow and tax money so Washington can try and spend it or do we create the conditions for growth so entrepreneurs and businesses can have the confidence to create jobs going forward? Is there anything practical that was off limits that should have been addressed?
The commission didn't go after fixing healthcare. They pretty much skirted it on the edge. We need to deal with Medicare. Medicare has a multi-trillion dollar unfunded liability. I think you need to address Medicare and Medicaid if you're going to deal with this. Of the GAO's unfunded liability figure, which is a $76 trillion figure, almost all of that is healthcare. You cannot preempt a debt crisis, get this fiscal house in order, without dealing with healthcare.
Ryan released a plan for Medicare with Rivlin yesterday.

Image courtesy of the RepublicanStudyCommittee