I've been hard on congressional Republicans recently for pandering to voters' ignorance by offering politically appealing but irresponsible slogans instead of a credible conservative vision of how to meet America's challenges, even those they harp on Obama for failing to address, such as our rising budget deficits. So, it is only fair that I praise Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for coming forward with a proposal that could actually reduce long-term deficits.
Ryan would do so by essentially eliminating Medicare (and privatizing Social Security). Everyone under 55 today, would not get covered by the U.S. government. Instead they would get vouchers with which to buy health insurance upon turning 65. You can quickly surmise what this would lead to: insurers, with a customer base that is high-risk, would either charge rates well above what the vouchers provide, and/or offer only bare-bones service for the cost of a voucher. The result: seniors who are uninsured or underinsured. Ultimately, seniors would die as a result, as younger Americans who lack insurance do now.
This is a conservative vision of government, and you cannot expect Democrats to embrace it. But if the Republicans ran on such a proposal and won control of Congress and the White House they could claim a legitimate mandate to enact it.
Alas, Republicans are all but certain not to run any such program. The attack ads by Democrats, liberal interest groups, maybe even the AARP, practically write themselves: "Republicans want to kick grandma out of the hospital."
The fact is, as Ryan admits, there is rationing in every health-care system, including the one we have now, and he is simply proposing a different regime, which would save money on entitlement spending by yanking the social safety net out from under anyone unlucky enough to turn in 65 in America after 2020. This is a legitimate alternative vision of how government should address health-care costs to the one Democrats have put forward, and it would be even more unpopular.
So, Democrats are already criticizing the plan, and Republicans are keeping their distance from it. Any proposal that upsets the status quo─whether it is by raising taxes on anyone, changing anyone's health-insurance provider, or reducing their benefits─is easy to turn the American people against. Americans want entitlement reform, tax cuts, their entitlements protected, their coverage expanded, better public schools and more affordable colleges and a balanced budget.
Propose anything that forces a real choice between these mutually exclusive goals and you get filleted for it. Unfortunately the Republicans have learned all too well that as long as they are in the minority they are better off sticking to pandering demagoguery. One could argue that Ryan's plan isn't really workable. If it was enacted and the vouchers proved inadequate for good insurance coverage wouldn't seniors, with their massive voting power, simply get Congress to increase the vouchers? Then we'd be back where we started in terms of deficits. But Ryan deserves credit for thinking seriously about the problems and proposing a real answer as to what trade-offs Republicans would like to make, at least in theory, if they were in power.
Of course, coming into power also can force you to put forward such proposal. In New Jersey, newly elected Republican Gov. Chris Christie has proposed an austere budget. From the Star-Ledger:
The proposals would require workers and retirees at all levels of government and local school districts to contribute to their own health care costs, ban part-time workers at the state and local levels from participating in the underfunded state pension system, cap sick leave payouts for all public employees and constitutionally require the state to fully fund its pension obligations each year.
We'll see how New Jerseyans react to get a sense of whether they actually embrace the vision of government that low taxes and balanced budgets would mean. More likely, they will complain about this, replace Christie with a Democrat, and then blame that guy for raising their taxes (or letting their property taxes go up) in order to prevent precisely these kinds of drastic measures.