A week ago Sunday while reading the publication former managing editor George Kennedy dubbed "the more expensive newspaper," I found on the opinion page two differing assessments of U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan for 2012 and beyond. One was by celebrity economist and Nobel Prize recipient Paul Krugman and the other by Bob Roper, a local retired banking and investment executive.
Mr. Krugman, whose current economic philosophy calls for more stimulus funding to spend our way out of debt, dismissed Ryan's effort as unrealistic and mean-spirited. His criticism did not offer an alternative. Simply put, if Americans were to opt for Krugman's ideology during hard and uncertain times rather than adopt austere budget measures, they would max out their credit cards attempting to get out of debt.
Conversely, Mr. Roper praised Rep. Ryan for having the courage not only to lay out a bold plan but also to hold up the "Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200" card to point out that our current path is unsustainable. Admittedly, Ryan's budget is a drastic departure from the administration's status quo of "kicking the can down the road," but more out-of-control spending and borrowing is not the answer.
Having served in Congressional Liaison on Capitol Hill for five years, I am familiar with the snail-paced budget and authorizations and appropriations processes. The art of energizing Congress to deal expeditiously with crises and emergencies differs little from driving mules: You must first get their attention. While Ryan's bill might be characterized as drastic or even Draconian, it has everyone's undivided attention.
His proposed spending cuts have revived the tired knee-jerk demagoguing from the Democrats who named it cruel. Claims such as "Mean-spirited Republicans are out to starve grandma and grandpa, balance the budget on the backs of the poor, throw the sick and the children into the streets and kill the arts" typify the outworn rhetoric. The politics of fear and class envy are a staple for this crowd.
We have just experienced a battle over the 2011 budget, one in which the Republican-controlled House was pitted against the Democratic Senate. The GOP goal was to cut $61 billion; the Democrats wanted no cuts at all. All the while, cries of cruel, mean and unfeeling Republicanism were hurled from the left. Finally, there was accord for $38 billion in cuts, about 0.02 percent of 2011's deficit.
But, in the words of Al Smith, former governor of New York and 1928 presidential candidate, "Let's take a look at the record." In this instance, the record is unflattering to the Democratic leadership from top to bottom. The budget just completed for fiscal year 2011 should have been in place by Oct. 1.
The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 requires the president to submit a budget request between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February of each year. Congress is then required to complete the budget by the beginning of the fiscal year. Despite holding majorities in the House and Senate along with enjoying the presidency, the Democrats failed to submit a budget.
Accordingly, instead of taking the stumbling and near-failing economy seriously and behaving responsibly, those in power turned the overdue budget over to the "elderly-, children- and art-hating" Republicans. One does have to admire their chutzpah though — it is reminiscent of Tom Sawyer's conning his friends into painting the fence and blaming them for not having it done six months before.
Mr. Ryan has thrown down the gauntlet, boldly placing both his reputation and future on the line with a budget calling for $6.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years. No one really expects this plan to pass the Senate or to survive a presidential veto. However, it is the first serious attempt to call for debate on our financial and fiscal future.
The plan also incorporates many of the ideas and reforms of the president's appointed Bowles/Simpson Deficit Commission, which thus far have been summarily ignored. As a matter of fact, the only alternatives to the Ryan plan have been — you guessed it — soak the rich and spend the proceeds.
With a U.S. national and public debt of more than $14 trillion, we have a spending problem rather than a revenue deficit. The notion of raising taxes to provide more revenue for already out-of-control spending is hardly a grown-up response. Mr. Ryan has merely tasked the government with placing its financial house in order in the same manner expected of its citizens.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.