Yesterday I noted Majoirty Leader Steny Hoyer's hypocritical admission that the House Democrats would not pass a budget. His hypocrisy aside, however, Hoyer gave a more realistic assessment of the debt situation speech than we've heard from either the Democratic or the Republican Party leadership.
In the course of outlining what the country would need to do to pay down the debt, Hoyer said:
Why am I so sure that a spending-and-revenue compromise is the only plan that has a chance of succeeding? Because a spending-only plan has been on the table for more than two years. It's Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's Roadmap, and it was originally introduced in May of 2008. Even though I strongly oppose its severe Medicare cuts for seniors, I've praised Congressman Ryan for being the only one in his party to offer a solution equal to the problem. But what have we heard from his own party? Crickets. For two years. The Republican Party has run away from Paul Ryan's plan, even though you'd expect it to rush to embrace a proposal based on spending cuts. As the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner observed last month, ‘The Ryan Roadmap is a test, and right now the Republican Party is failing it.'
Howard Gleckman explains that the compromise Hoyer outlined is a real compromise, that significantly departs from the liberal ideal of a revenue-only solution to the debt problem:
[Hoyer's] remarks won't make him any friends within the Democratic base. Among his proposals: Trim future Medicare costs. Raise the Social Security retirement age. Adjust both programs to focus benefits on those who need them most, even if it means reducing benefits for wealthy retirees. Cut defense spending. Have a "serious discussion" about whether to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 as President Obama wants. Enforce budget rules that require Congress to pay for new spending and tax cuts.
Economic recovery remains Hoyer's top priority. But when it comes to the need for deficit reduction, he didn't pull his punches: "We're lying to ourselves and our children if we say we can maintain our current levels of entitlement spending, defense spending, and taxation without bankrupting our country."
Liberals now have a member of the Democratic leadership offering a compromise that would cut some of their most sacred programs, willing to meet Republicans halfway. Far from rallying around the spending reduction-only plan, the Roadmap, Republicans are coming off a prolonged and vocal defense against any cuts to Medicare. That's not a winning bargaining strategy. Where would the conversation be if Republicans were behind Paul Ryan?
This is not to excuse Hoyer for adopting Obama's strategy of outsourcing budgeting responsibilities to the deficit commission, which is truly weak. But his comments do illustrate the reality that Republicans are on pace to miss a huge opportunity to downsize the government.
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