The Corner

De Rugy vs. the Ryan Plan

Veronique de Rugy raises two issues in her critique of the latest version of the Ryan budget plan. Her first objection is that it doesn’t go far enough; that it represents too much compromise, compared to other plans that cut spending faster. I’m not sure, though, why you couldn’t make the exact same critique of any of her alternative plans. They don’t go far enough either, judged by the yardstick of a small-government ideal. But it’s the second objection that I want to dwell on, because it is pretty close to a misleading criticism that Democrats are also making. She writes that the Ryan plan

reneges on sequestration-induced reductions in military spending (it finds the “savings” elsewhere). I think a serious plan would put everything on the table. More importantly, this will guarantee that no one in their right mind will ever agree to make a deal with Republicans since they will turn around and try to change the terms of the contract they don’t like. If they didn’t want defense cuts, they shouldn’t have made them part of the debt ceiling deal.

Nobody ever thought that the debt-ceiling deal entailed this type of commitment — that it precluded deciding to spend more in one category and less in another. Remember the supercommittee? The debt-ceiling deal charged it with identifying other ways of realizing either the same savings as the sequester, or more savings. The provision for a supercommittee would have made no sense if the details of the sequester had somehow become a moral obligation on everyone; and the logic of the provision was precisely that a lot of people who approved the deal didn’t want the sequester to take full effect. The theory was that politicians might reach a more intelligent deficit-cutting deal to avoid the sequester. No such deal, of course, was made. But the Ryan plan is an attempt to outline what a better deficit-cutting plan would look like. (The Democrats, by the way, are saying that Ryan’s plan reneges on the deal by cutting domestic spending further than the sequester. Presumably de Rugy does not agree, but that’s where her argument would lead her.)

But let’s say the supercommittee had come up with a credible plan that, for example, scaled back the discretionary-spending cuts a bit but imposed real entitlement reform that more than made up for that laxity. We wouldn’t then attack the supercommittee for reneging on the debt-ceiling deal by following its instructions.

It’s one thing to say that the Ryan plan should have kept the defense cuts and added other cuts to them, which I take to be de Rugy’s position. But that’s not the same thing as saying it breaks a deal. It doesn’t.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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