Politics and Public Opinion

AEI Blog Symposium: Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity and the 2012 Election

For this online symposium, we posed the following question to a variety of all-star pundits and commentators: How will Paul Ryan’s new Path to Prosperity budget affect the 2012 election?

Jay Cost, staff writer for the Weekly Standard.

President Obama and his partisan hatchet woman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, are surely pleased that Paul Ryan has released this budget, as it gives them an opportunity to run the “Mediscare” tactic against Republicans.

They should get some political mileage out of it, but their alternative is certainly no more popular, and much more dangerous. As Keith Hennessey has noted, the Ryan budget and the Obama budget offer distinct paths for the country: One of sustainable deficits and one of unsustainable deficits.

This points to the value of the Ryan plan. For decades, Americans have turned a blind eye to the fact that its entitlement system is unsustainable, as the next step is too uncomfortable: Either big reforms must be implemented, or huge tax hikes imposed. Americans have consistently chosen “none of the above,” and politicians have encouraged this willful ignorance.

The Ryan budget forces the political class to finally discuss the nature of our debt crisis, and thus begin the arduous process of building a political consensus for solving it. President Obama would rather continue the happy fiction that our debt problems can be solved with a few tax hikes on the wealthy. But the Ryan plan makes it harder for him to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in 2012—and just might induce the country to confront its entitlement crisis.

Jonathan S. Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine.

Paul Ryan’s budget proposal will be prime campaign fodder for Democrats in 2012. They will seek to tie every Republican on the ballot to Ryan’s vision, which they will label as an effort to gut Medicare and Social Security. The “throw granny off the cliff” trope will be used for all its worth. But the ultimate effectiveness of this strategy is an open question.

Class warfare demagoguery can certainly rally the liberal base, whose mobilization is essential for Democratic victory. The template is the special Congressional election last spring in Western New York, where the Mediscare theme flipped a safe GOP seat to the Democrats. Yet a rigid defense of entitlements during a shaky economy may not be as bulletproof as Democrats think. Ryan’s ideas give the GOP, and especially its presidential candidate, an opportunity to play the responsible adult on economic questions.

A campaign aimed at convincing voters that tax reform and a mandate to stop the out-of-control spending that is bankrupting the nation can be every bit as effective as the Democrats’ Mediscare theme. It also plays into Mitt Romney’s economic expertise and fears about the cost of ObamaCare. Though Ryan’s decision to put his ideas on the table was a risk, it’s one that might pay off for his party.

Jennifer Marsico, senior research associate, AEI’s Political Corner.

With the GOP candidates still locked in a tight primary battle, it’s to be expected that all of them will voice support for the Ryan budget. The plan, introduced on Tuesday, includes a range of conservative policies, from simplification of the tax code to deficit reduction to spending cuts in several government programs, so opposing the budget in the midst of a close primary could be the kiss of death. (Don’t expect to hear any charges of “right-wing social engineering” this year.)

But even though all of the GOP candidates will probably support the Ryan plan, they’ve made few comments about it (Romney says he supports it, while Santorum calls it “a good blueprint”). Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have been quite vocal, arguing that the Ryan plan would hurt Medicare and therefore hurt seniors. Although Ryan himself disagrees with the idea that his budget plan could be a hindrance to the eventual GOP nominee, fervent, demonstrative support for it now could make the general election run-to-the-center more difficult. In a year where winning independent voters will be key to winning the election, GOP candidates’ quieter support may be their best approach to the budget, politically speaking.

James Pethokoukis, AEI’s Enterprise blog editor and CNBC contributor.

Yes, the sweeping budget plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan would radically transform how Washington taxes and spends. Over the next decade, Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” would cut spending by $5.3 trillion compared to President Barack Obama’s recent budget proposal. Longer term, reforming Medicare is what the Ryan plan is really all about. Ryan wants to use competition to cut costs while maintaining and improving quality. Under his “premium support” plan, seniors starting in 2023—at least those under 55 today—would use Medicare dollars to choose among private plans and Medicare.

A big change? Sure. But that mechanism has received kind words across the political spectrum. Current Democratic budget hawks, including Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and former Clinton budget adviser Alice Rivlin, are supportive. And it is pretty tough to argue that Ryan wants to kill Medicare when he specifically keeps it as an option for tomorrow’s seniors and would spend more on it as a share of GDP. I think the Democratic anti-Ryan argument will quickly sound like a tired talking point. Which it is. Republicans shouldn’t hesitate to embrace it.

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