HELD FOR QUESTIONING: Obama’s Reactive Approach Makes Paul Ryan Intellectual Leader in the Congress in Budget Debate.
Dramatic Shift in Budget Debate from White House to U.S.House. Q. Has the budget process has changed dramatically since you first went to work as a staffer in the U. S. House in 1958? A. Absolutely. When I went there then, at the tag-end of the Eisenhower administration, the course of action had been always in the president’s hands—and had been so since the days of Franklin Roosevelt: Meaning that the ball started rolling with the president: in his State of the Union where he outlined his vision and the budget address where he unfolded his schema on how to pay for it…tax revisions—either escalated up or laden with certain incentives. The debate would start there—with the president going first; often the presidential budget was just the starting point for debate: but let’s be clear—it was the starting point. That system was in place ever since the nation’s first budget chief, Charles Gates Dawes of Evanston (later to become vice president under Coolidge) initiated it under Warren Harding. And it has continued through the administrations of Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush…until now. The Congress waited eagerly to get their hands on it—to either tear it apart or add to it….but whatever: the presidential budget was always the starting point. Until now. Q. What’s the change that occurred? A. First, the last State of the Union speech, the last one delivered by Obama was a laugh: a pastiche of hoary old slogans including the titleWinning the Futurewhich was a steal of Newt Gingrich’s early books. Second,the outrageously expensive and regimented ObamaCare bill which Nancy Pelosi described as something once we all—includingshe—understand, we will like…and the awful force-feeding of the medicine with Rahm auctioning off goodies to Louisiana (the Purchase) and Nebraska (the Cornhusker rape) to get it passed without a concern for the ever-growing deficit or looming national debt ended the historic pretext of the presidential budget and programs being introduced first and Congress then taking a whack at them. It led to the election of a Republican House, the chamber where appropriations begin and a strong reinforcement of Republicans in the Senate. Third,the 2010 Republican congressional victory led to the ascension of the first intellectual leader the GOP has had on substantial issues since Robert Taft [1889-1953]—41-year-old Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of House Budget. Q. How did Taft dominate Democratic and Republican congresses? A. By un-showy intellectual prowess. Everyone came to defer to him since he knew the most. He had a mind that scooped up facts like a vacuum cleaner. I came to Washington five years after his untimely death in 1953 but his intellectual influence was still strong. Wherever he served in the Senate....member of Finance….chairman of the Labor committee…co-chairman of the Joint Economic committee….Senate majority leader…his reasonable yet firm intellectual dominance was impeccable: his view of fiscal solvency as Finance and the Joint Economic committee which enabled him to put together a successful coalition with Virginia Sen. Harry Byrd…his crafting of the first revisionist labor reform legislation since passage of the early New Deal Wagner Act—Taft Hartley…his farsighted support of realistic anti-Communist yet not interventionist foreign-defense policy. Sen. Paul Douglas (D-IL) who didn’t agree with him on most issues except thrift (having said “being a liberal doesn’t mean one is a wastrel”) nevertheless grudgingly averred that he was “the uncrowned intellectual leader of the Senate.” Q. And you say the budgetary procedure has moved with the initiative going to Ryan rather than the president? A.Yes. The first initiative to supposedly “control” spending and the deficits coming from Obama was so weak…remember the long since abandoned “spending freeze” no one ever believed?...that since nature abhors a vacuum, the momentum moved to Ryan. Last week he fearlessly outlined a counter-budget which was so courageous that Obama was forced to do what no other president has done—announce via histop political adviser not his budget guy or economic guru, the successor to David Axelrod, David Plouffe, his 2008 campaign manager,that he would make a second try at a budget/economic speech: tacit recognition that he was outpointed by this young congressman. Q. But Paul Ryan’s blueprint has been described as draconian. A. It has but since the American people have come to recognize that our deficit and debt position is so draconian, realism….grasping the third rail that other politicians fear to touch..is needed. Q. What are the essentials of the Ryan blueprint? A. It starts with bold thrusts. It reduces spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade and cuts the deficit by $4.4 trillion. A big part rests with the assumption that ObamaCare will be repealed which means that over the next decade this will cut $1.4 trillion in savings alone. It cuts the top income tax rate from 35% to 25%. He will cut $389 billion from Medicare over the next decade; at the same time he puts $735 billion less toward Medicaid. Discretionary spending on domestic programs is reduced by $923 billion. He makes two exceptions—national defense spending and Social Security which would be unchanged from the Obama budget. His plan shows that $1.1 trillion less than the next five years under the Obama budget and would add $3 trillion less to the debt than the Obama budget over the next decade. It would bring down the debt to $13.9 trillion by 2016 instead of $15 trillion under Obama and $13 trillion by 2016 compared to Obama’s $16 trillion and $19 trillion by 2021 under the president’s plan. Ryan would have $40 trillion in spending over the next 10 years compared to $34.9 trillion in revenues. Obama would spend $46 trillion in the coming decade while bringing in $38.8 trillion in revenues. The gradual nature of the Ryan plan can be seen this way: Ryan would still result in government spending $5.1 trillion more than it brings in in the next decade but this is less than the $7.2 trillion in deficit spending Obama has proposed. Ryan’s plan is gradual but radical since he maintains the impasse demands radical action. Under Ryan, the federal government will spend $5.8 trillion less over the next decade than it would under current law. Over a reasonable amount of time his blueprint would begin to reduce the size of the deficit relative to the economy and over the coming decades would not only balance the budget but would actually begin to pay off the principal of the debt. He would do this by cutting discretionary spending, reform the tax code to broaden the base and lower rates, block-grant some federal welfare programs including Medicaid to the states, repeal ObamaCare (already described), privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, cut back farm subsidies and corporate welfare and—most important—reform Medicare for those now younger than 55 from an open-end entitlement to a system of premium supports to subsidize the purchase of private insurance. One can argue with the details of the Ryan plan but this much is true:He…not the president…has set the standard of a debate which has at the end of the tunnel the prospect for a gradual return to solvency. Which means that the initiative has swung from the White House to the Republican House. This follows the widely heralded Republican victory under Speaker Boehner in negotiations with Obama and the Democratic Senate. Q. What are the reactions of key Obama allies to the Boehner-Obama-Reid deal that sent Obama scurrying to the Lincoln Memorial yesterday…sprinting up the steps to show his youth… to politick with tourists, trying to move into the limelight for some of the glory ala 2012? A. Understand when the negotiations began I was one who said something I still believe that if Boehner hit a sticky wicket it would be advisable to shut the government down. But in the negotiations Boehner came out the winner so dramatically that it wasn’t necessary no matter what some Tea Party purists believe. Friday’s deal cuts spending more than in any other single year on record--$78 billion more than Obama initially proposed. While domestic discretionary spending grew by 6% in 2008 (under George W. Bush) and 14% in 2009, this yearit will fall by 4%. For a party that controls only one House of Congress that’s a signal victory—and Boehner was right to accept it as well as the other goodies from a conservative point of view rather than moving to pull the plug. You only pull the plug as a last resort—not at this time. Q. But Boehner sold out the pro-lifers on Planned Parenthood, didn’t he? A. Quit this “sold out” stuff will you? That’s Captain
Queeg rolling-the-steel-ball-bearings talk. The District of Columbia which has the most excessive pro-abort record propelled by public funding has to drop it—returning to the days pre-2009 when the ban was lifted. As far as not removing all public funding for abortion, I don’t yield to anyone my near 40 years of activism on pro-life and in opposition to federal subsidies for Planned Parenthood but for the first time the Democratic Senate….sharply reduced in numbers…will have to vote on a rider that supports their contention which is greatly politically more desirable than feeding our enemies the notion that to end monies for PP we’d close the government down. That would be politically disastrous for the future and be a tragic setback for pro-life. This way we have the best of all possible worlds—a remarkable fork in the road from 70 years of liberalismplusin a country which is undergoing serious reappraisal of abortion, a vote by Senate Democrats that will be disadvantageous to them. As a matter of fact, if Boehner had rejected this deal he’d be repudiating his leadership. Plus the District of Columbia with the worst schools and in the grip of the teachers’ union gets a return to vouchers.Magnificent deal. Not perfect but one which can be defended on human attainability under Natural Law. Get over thisif we don’t get everything we want, we pull the plug, take our marbles and go home—to live in ignominy because of our legendary hard-headedness. Q. What is the reaction of the Obama press to what you call the Boehner victory and the Paul Ryan seizure of the political initiative? A. When I unfoldedThe New York Timesyesterday over the breakfast table the main editorial said:“The cuts to keep government running are far too large and the next battle could be worse.”The editorial said this: “The Republicans set the terms of the debate at every point and learned they can push the fumbling and fearful Democrats far to the right[sic]. ..[T]he Republicans did far better than they could possibly have imagined when the process began, winning $38.5 billion in cuts, more than even the House [GOP] leadership had proposed. That’s on top of the $40 billion in additional spending President Obama had originally proposed for this fiscal year which was dropped. About $13 billion will be cut from the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services…Democrats also agreed to the ideological demand of House conservatives that the District of Columbia be banned from spending any money for abortions, a cruel blow to the poor and largely African American women who need these services[sic]. “ Q. Wow—that’s theNew York Times? A. The paper that sets the agenda for liberalism in this country and which is scrutinized by the networks for what tone to take in their coverage. Then while I was munching my Quaker oatmeal squares, I turned to Paul Krugman’s column…the Nobel Prize-winner who is easily the most leftwing economist in the country, one of Obama’s great apologists and fervent supporter of ObamaCare. This is what he said yesterday morning in his column entitledThe President is Missing. “What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?...Maybe that terrible deal in which the Republicans ended up getting more than their opening bid was the best he could achieve—although it looks from here as if the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making preemptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiations with the GOP leading to further concessions….But let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt and suppose the $38 billion in spending cuts—and a much larger cut relative to his own budget proposals—was the best deal available. Even so, did Mr.Obama have to celebrate his defeat? Did he have to praise Congress for enacting `the largest annual spending cut in our history…?”