Entitlement Reform: What Next?
Paul Ryan’s budget proposal jump-starts the conversation on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.


Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” gives a frightening overview of the debt crisis that is threatening to overwhelm us, coupled with a serious proposal for setting things right.

To some extent, the reactions so far have been predictable. Michael Cannon and David Brooks both praised it, albeit for different reasons; Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall condemned it.

What I found most striking about Ryan’s plan is his damning depiction of the Obama budget. As Ryan put it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

The president’s recent budget proposal would accelerate America’s descent into a debt crisis. It doubles debt held by the public by the end of his first term and triples it by 2021. It imposes $1.5 trillion in new taxes, with spending that never falls below 23% of the economy. His budget permanently enlarges the size of government. It offers no reforms to save government health and retirement programs, and no leadership.

This denial of the problem on the part of the president and his administration stands in stark contrast to Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope, in which then-senator Obama criticized President Bush’s budgets thus:

The result of this collective denial is the most precarious budget situation that we’ve seen in years. We now have an annual budget deficit of $300 billion, not counting more than $180 billion we borrow every year from the Social Security Trust Fund, all of which adds directly to our national debt. That debt now stands at $9 trillion — approximately $30,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

Somehow, the person who wrote that passage has now increased the annual deficit by more than $1 trillion over the $300 billion he (rightly) railed against, and he seems unwilling to address this issue in a serious way.

As for the politics of it, I have no doubts that the Democrats will demagogue the issue, but the recent elections give me hope that the same old “bash Republican cuts” playbook may be losing its effectiveness. What has long been a third rail — addressing the entitlement crisis — may be turning into a badge of honor, and ignoring the issue of our debt tsunami may be in the process of becoming the new third rail of the 21st century.

Tevi Troy is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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