Tomorrow House Budget chief Paul Ryan is expected to present a Republican 2012 budget proposal that would reform Medicare and Medicaid and cut $4 trillion from the projected deficit. If the reports are correct, the plan would be a bold step toward fulfilling one of the Republicans' core campaign promises, namely, to address the entitlements crisis.
The reason that reforming entitlements, something everyone knows must be done, requires political boldness is that each side is quick to demagogue the other for proposing cuts to programs that benefit vast amounts of voters. And Democrats have already begun doing just that for Ryan's proposed budget, even though it has not yet been revealed. Here are three Democratic talking points that are likely to be repeated fequently after tomorrow:
1. The "radical" GOP budget would "eliminate Medicare" as Brian Beutler at TPM suggests. If Ryan's plan constitutes the elimination of Medicare, than any reform significant enough to restore the fiscal sustainability of Medicare would also probably qualify as elimination of Medicare.
2. The GOP budget will be "a giant tax hike to make tax cuts for the rich affordable," as was claimed when Ryan's "Roadmap" plan came out. This piece of misinformation was introduced by Citizens for Tax Justice, and as Philip Klein explains, it doesn't apply to the current GOP proposal, but to the Roadmap. Yet even in reference to the Roadmap it was a deceptive study, because it compared the distributive effects of the plan to President Obama's proposals, not to current policy. It shouldn't be shocking that Ryan's plans include lower top marginal tax rates than Obama's.
3. The GOP plan cuts Medicare and Medicaid because "[t]hey think it's politically easy to go after the most vulnerable of the vulnerable," as Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Democratic ranking member of the Budget Committee, warns. The announcement that the budget would include Medicare reform should have put a rest to this particular line of demagoguery, as Medicare benefits people of all income levels and is politically very popular. In fact, by addressing the unsustainability of Medicare, the GOP is running a huge political risk. Furthermore, those two items, Medicare and Medicaid, are the cause of most of the unsustainable future spending increases. The point of the proposal is to put the U.S. on a sustainable fiscal path, and that means reforming government spending on health care. The major entitlement that the GOP budget doesn't change is Social Security. Liberals like Van Hollen have long made the protection of Social Security a priority; would he prefer it if Ryan cut it as well?
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