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Paul Ryan Grabs the Third Rail

Is Representative Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) a starve-the-beast Republican (versus the recent group of "Deficit Hawkoprites"), or a concerned politician who seeks to tackle the nation's mushrooming debt with a dramatic new deficit-reduction proposal? The battle grounds are being drawn as we speak.

MoneyWatch blogger Mark Thoma argues that the Ryan plan is "fundamentally immoral":

The game being played here has little to do with the budget itself. It is an ideological debate about the role and obligation of government. First, cut taxes for the wealthy to create a big hole in the budget, have a Great Recession aid the cause by stripping government at all levels of tax revenue, increasing costs of serving people, and creating short-run deficit problems (and a war here and there doesn't hurt the cause either), and finally use the deficit as a club against social insurance programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
Then we have Mr. Ryan building his case this way:
No one person or party is responsible for the looming crisis. Yet the facts are clear: Since President Obama took office, our problems have gotten worse. Major spending increases have failed to deliver promised jobs. The safety net for the poor is coming apart at the seams. Government health and retirement programs are growing at unsustainable rates. The new health-care law is a fiscal train wreck. And a complex, inefficient tax code is holding back American families and businesses.
As my favorite divorce lawyer likes to say, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Here's what we know: the country can not maintain its current fiscal path. The US national debt is rapidly approaching the $14.294 trillion debt ceiling limit and unless Congress comes up with a compromise before Friday, the US government will have to shut down.

Maybe the knuckleheads in DC will really push this debate to the bitter end and maybe we'll even have a shut down, but frankly, that's political nonsense. The real problems we need to address are: (a) skyrocketing health care costs, which are embedded in the social safety nets on which Americans have come to rely-Medicare and Medicaid; and (b) an aging population that is tapping a flawed Social Security system.

American politicians are fearful of touching these so-called "third rail" issues, less they risk electrocution, or in their lives, political extinction. Who can forget the summer of health care reform town halls, when voters practically pounced on any member of Congress who dared to put his government claws into a voter's beloved Medicare?

The Social Security debate conjures similar emotions -- just check out MoneyWatch Editor in Chief Eric Schurenberg's post, 5 Social Security Myths and the angry comments that his cogent and frank discussion raised.

I'm pretty sure every American understands these problems and equally certain that nobody wants to give up anything, but that's not going to cut it this time. It's time for everyone to suck it up and realize that we are all going to pay for the past. Yeah, I know you were the responsible one and it's not fair...blah, blah, blah. The country has entered a new phase, one that requires both the politicians and citizens to conjure up the will to make hard and painful choices. Otherwise, we are dangerously close to deserving what we get.

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