The Corner

Faint Praise for the Ryan-Murray Budget Plan

Temecula, Calif.Hip, hip, hooray.

That’s the muted sound of one cheer for Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray’s bipartisan budget compromise. As spendthrift legislation goes, this is a cherry bomb, rather than the mortar shell that normally erupts when Congress spends like Santa Claus before racing home for Christmas. This budget bill increases spending by $63 billion. That stinks, though not in the usual triple digits.

“Support Ryan-Murray: Its stench is mild!”

What a rallying cry.

About the best one can say is that Ryan-Murray lets the GOP avoid another government shutdown. I supported October’s shutdown so the GOP would have, at best, one last chance to stop Obamacare and, at worst, place maximum distance between itself and this calamitous law. The shutdown accomplished the latter perfectly: No one any longer denounces senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio as the men who demolished the GOP. The scathing criticism leveled against these brave leaders among Republican ranks has vanished like a morning fog beneath a blazing noonday sun. As Obamacare has fallen completely to pieces — exceeding the worst nightmares of its most vocal critics — Cruz et al have been vindicated utterly, and no one thinks Obamacare is the property of anyone but Obama and his Democrat henchpersons.

That said, another federal shutdown — fairly or unfairly pinned on Republicans — would cement the GOP’s reputation as “the shutdown party.” Americans who believe in stable, orderly government would look sourly upon the GOP in that light.

So, one cheer to Ryan-Murray for avoiding another shutdown which, no matter what, would be blamed on the GOP.

January promises even more excruciating headaches from Obamacare, as some 5.9 million Americans will contend with what’s fact checkers call 2013’s Lie of the Year: Obama’s “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” fraud, which he deliberately and wittingly repeated at least 29 times. Americans who fell for Obama’s despicable lies, and even those who did not, soon will cope with either no health insurance or Obamacare plans that may or may not work after New Year’s Day. With’s payment function not yet built, many Americans have placed their new medical coverage policies in their online sales carts. However, they have yet to buy them. Come 2014, their doctors may look at them as quizzically as airline check-in agents would regard people who reserved airline seats but never actually purchased them.

Congressional Republicans should use Ryan-Murray’s cleaning of the budget slate to focus entirely on Obamacare: Highlight the program’s Technicolor implosion through floor speeches, hearings, and the showcasing of Obamacare’s victims in every venue Republicans can command.

The Republican House also should use this shutdown-free environment to adopt, one by one, the planks of a GOP alternative to Obamacare. As Obamacare’s overflowing garbage truck reeks more intensely every day, House Republicans should enact separate bills to let Americans buy insurance across state lines, limit junk lawsuits in medicine, open universal health-savings accounts, enjoy the same tax-free treatment on individual health premiums now available for corporate plans, etc. As Obamacare grows uglier by the hour, Americans will be relieved to hear these pro-freedom, pro-patient ideas from the GOP.

House leaders should force Democrats to vote on these ideas, one by one. While Democrats would vote in lockstep against a giant GOP substitute for Obamacare, discreet votes on these individual ideas would peel away some Democrats who liked some of these measures or who simply did not want to explain such votes to their constituents before Election Day.

Thus, Republicans could offer these votes in aggregate as their plan to replace Obamacare. Many of these planks would boast bipartisan support — something that the exclusively Democrat Obamacare sorely lacks.

While Ryan-Murray created this opening for Republicans, it also represents an enormous lost opportunity from which the GOP should learn a lesson.

While it can be difficult to demand cuts in spending, for many reasons, Republicans always should push at least for structural reforms that make it easier to limit government.

While Democrats always can moan about budget cuts starving Granny and leaving the grandkids unclothed, it is very difficult for them to demagogue administrative and procedural ideas that would allow free-marketeers, over time, to remove government’s snout from our lives.

Paul Ryan should have told Patty Murray, “OK, if we go wobbly on the sequester, here’s what we need in return.”

• Henceforth, every government program should sunset after 10 years and would go dark unless a new act of Congress and presidential signature affirmatively reauthorized it. Constitutional and necessary programs would survive this test. Those that do not would fade into oblivion.

• Zero-based budgeting should replace today’s automatic budget increases. Each federal program must justify its spending plan from the first dollar, rather than simply get fresh gravy poured atop last year’s outlays. Given the federal budget’s size, half of the programs and agencies should undergo this exercise one year and the other half the next. Thus, each Congress would review every program’s budget from the bottom up. Vital programs should endure this strict scrutiny. Antiquated ones should collapse by the wayside (e.g., federal almond-marketing orders — really?).

• The federal budget should operate on accrual accounting and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. GAAP bookkeeping is a given among Fortune 500 companies and, indeed, is required by federal law among all publicly traded firms. Washington operates a nearly $4 trillion enterprise using cash accounting. This befits a corner taco stand, not the government of the earth’s sole surviving superpower. By delineating revenues, outlays, and long-term liabilities, accrual accounting would provide Americans a much more accurate picture of this country’s dire financial straits. Cash accounting gives one the false sense of comfort prompted by seeing the greenbacks in the cash register — while ignoring the nearby stack of bills.

• Ryan also might have pushed for Murray to trade the sequester for the so-called Penny Plan. Simply put, in 2014, Washington would spend 99 cents on the dollar it spent in 2013. In 2015, 98 cents. In 2016, 97 cents, etc. So long as the bottom line hit that threshold, Democrats could move money around from account to account, requiring them — for once — to set priorities. While this would allow greater overall spending reduction than under the sequester (which should please Republicans), it would allow greater flexibility than the sequester in setting spending levels in one program vs. another (which should please Democrats).

• While this might be more contentious, there is widespread bipartisan belief in the House and Senate that Obamacare’s medical-device tax is hurting one of America’s most creative industries and jeopardizing cures and treatments for a wide range of ailments. Republicans and Democrats agree that this stupid tax is a cold slap across the faces of researchers who are trying hard to make sick people healthy. Unplugging this idiotic and cruel tax should have been part of this deal.

So, for something that could have been far better but could have been far worse, Ryan-Murray deserves one cheer. If it fails in the Senate, Ryan & Co. should try again, while adopting as many of these ideas as possible.

And if it passes, Republicans should go home, enjoy Christmas, swill some champagne on New Year’s Eve, and then rush back to Washington in January. Rather than commence a party-splitting fight over amnesty, Republicans should remain unified, hammer Obamacare into oblivion, and replace it with pro-freedom, pro-patient, pro-innovation health-care reform.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.