GOP Rep. Ryan: Republicans Are Putting Politics Over Principle

The GOP is running away from a realistic deficit plan because they're afraid that it would kill their political prospects in November, Rep. Paul Ryan said at a presentation of his budget roadmap at the Brookings Institution.


When asked why Republicans aren't flocking to his bold government reform, Ryan responded, without hesitation: "They're talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, 'Stay away from this, we're going to win an election.'"*

Ryan's plan would dramatically change the country's tax and entitlement system. It would introduce a value-added tax, eliminate the corporate income tax, phase in deep Medicare cuts, and partially privatize Social Security, among other things.

Liberal groups have slammed the plan for giving the richest Americans a million-dollar tax break and moving the tax burden toward the lower brackets. Key Republicans have also shunned the plan, presumably because it dramatically shrinks Medicare spending at a time when GOP leaders have recently criticized the new health care law for cutting Medicare. But on a panel discussion after Ryan's presentation, even his critics praised the congressman for putting a plan on the table when both parties were reluctant to propose any major spending cuts or tax increases.

Despite the enormity of our debt crisis -- the debt is scheduled to rise from about 60% to a vertiginous 750% of GDP in 2080 -- we cannot tax our way to prosperity, Ryan told his audience in a presentation before the question and answer session. His plan aims to hold revenues at their historical average of 19%, and the burden of debt reduction falls almost entirely on the spending side.

While pollsters might advise 2010 incumbents to keep their mouth shut on tax increases or spending cuts before November, December is setting up to be Fiscal Showdown Month. The Bush tax cuts come up for renewal and the fiscal commission releases its report on deficit reduction at the end of the year. That's one reason why some politicians have forecast that 2010 could be one of the most significant "lame duck" sessions in recent history.

___________

*Without a recorder, the quote I wrote down at the event was "They're talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, 'Stay away from this.'" The quote has been updated after conferring via email with another journalist at the event.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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