House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), vice-presidential candidate on the 2012 Republican ticket, understandably made budget proposals the focus of his speech at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Also unsurprisingly, he did not think much of the Senate Democrats’ budget. “We got white smoke from the Vatican, and we got a budget from the Senate,” said Ryan of the past week’s events. “The Senate calls their budget ‘A Foundation for Growth: Restoring the Promise of American Opportunity.’ Wow, I feel like saluting already. But when you read it, you find that the Vatican???s not the only place blowing smoke this week. You see, the Democrats, they call their budget a balanced approach. The thing is, they never balance the budget, ever. In fact, they call for another trillion-dollar-plus tax hike on top of even more spending. If we did nothing, I mean not pass their budget, the government would save money.”
He was pleased with the response his own budget blueprint has gotten so far. “I???m proud of our budget, because it???s changed the conversation. Today, we are not talking about cliffs or ceilings or sequesters. We???re talking about solutions. And that???s how it should be. Our budget expands opportunity by growing the economy. It strengthens the safety net by retooling government. And it restores fairness by ending cronyism. And by setting priorities, and choosing wisely, we have a plan to pay off our debt. In fact, we balance the budget in ten years, without raising taxes. How do we do this? You know, it’s really pretty simple. We stop spending money we don’t have.”
Noting that the amount of revenue Washington manages to collect from the American economy is actually fairly difficult to increase by manipulating tax rates, due to the drag they produce on the economy, Ryan said it seemed obvious that spending should match up with revenue reality. He also objected to the new paradigm in which Washington decides how much it wants to spend, and then makes taxpayers cover most of the bill. Instead, “We say to Washington, what we???re willing to pay is what you???re able to spend. Period. Every family lives within a budget. Washington should do the same thing.”
Ryan stressed that the importance of balancing the budget is not merely “an accounting exercise,” but an effort to grapple with a mortal threat to the economy. “We have to tackle this problem before it tackles us,” he asserted.
“Just look at where we are, and where we???re going,” he warned. “Last quarter, the economy grew by a hair. Unemployment is 7.7 percent. 46 million people are living in poverty today in America. The President says we???re in a recovery. I???d say we???re in critical care. Look at where we’re going! Farther down the road, things will get worse. By the end of 2023, the economy will be at a crawl. We will have added $8 trillion to our debt. That debt will weigh down the country like an anchor.”
That anchor will drag us into the deep waters of rising interest rates and decreased lender confidence, until Ryan predicted that a cash-strapped government would “take the easy way out” and “crank up the printing presses.” The resulting monetary debacle would be horrific for both rich and poor. “The safety net would unravel,” Ryan warned. “And the most vulnerable? They would suffer the most.”
Ryan portrayed this debt crisis as a sign of economic disaster, moral failure, and government overreach. The inflationary spiral he described would “cheat us of our just rewards” and treat working families as “suckers” for trying to sensibly manage their own finances. The accumulation of massive debt is a sign that “government is doing too much. And when government does too much, it doesn’t do anything well.”
He would address the problem, through his budget and its implementation, by reforming government and restoring the power of community. “The duty of government isn???t to displace these communities, but to support them,” Ryan said. “It isn???t to blunt their differences or to flatten their character, or to mash them
He saw the current dysfunctional state of government chaos as “fertile soil for liberalism.” When politicians maintain an atmosphere of crisis, in needed of hasty emergency solutions, “they make deals in the dead of night, far away from public view. Lobbyists sneak in their pet projects. And government grows. Cronyism spreads. It crowds out our communities. And as it lurches from crisis to crisis, it freezes people in fear. In effect, we levy an ‘uncertainty tax’ on everyone in the nation. We make it impossible for them to plan for their future.”
Ryan invited Democrats to join him in bringing an end to budget brinksmanship, while sounding cheerfully dubious that they would take him up on it. “Our budget draws a sharp contrast with the Left. It says to the people, in unmistakable terms: ???They are the party of shared hardship. We are the party of equal opportunity.???” That sounds like a fine campaign slogan for the GOP in 2014, unless Ryan has plans to use it for himself two years later.