The Agenda

Brief Thoughts on Ryan and Bowles-Simpson

Steven Sloan and John Bresnahan of Politico have a story on Paul Ryan’s decision to vote against the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission’s final proposal. Only at the end does it glancingly reference the fact that the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission failed to consider the Medicare reform proposal Ryan had worked on with Alice Rivlin, President Clinton’s former budget director. Moreover, Sloan and Bresnahan don’t reference the fact that the commission essentially entrenched the four-tranche universal health system created under PPACA, which Ryan and other conservatives considered deeply flawed. Having worked tirelessly to oppose PPACA, why would Ryan and his allies endorse it just months later? Sen. Tom Coburn, with whom Ryan collaborated on an alternative to PPACA, did back the deficit commission’s final proposals, and he defended Ryan’s decision not to do the same. 

Far from being intransigent, it seems that Ryan was quite open to a compromise on revenue provided there was significant movement on structural entitlement reform. 

My favorite aspect of the story is its two references to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a stalwart progressive. First, there is this:

“There is not a flexibility in Paul Ryan,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who served on the commission with Ryan.“He saw the problem as spending, period, end of story. It wasn’t a matter of this is a revenue proposal that I could support.”

And then there is this, later in the piece:

To be fair, the liberals on the commission — including Schakowsky — were rigid in their beliefs as well and were unwilling to target entitlements and big cuts to social spending.

There is every reason to believe that Ryan was initially open to a compromise on revenue, yet as it became clear that PPACA was not up for substantive revision and that competitive bidding for Medicare wasn’t on the table, his appetite for giving the deficit commission’s proposal his blessing dwindled. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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