Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and former vice presidential candidate, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week proposing that Congress might end the government shutdown and avoid a cataclysmic debt default if Democrats agree to cut spending and not raise revenue. There is absolutely nothing new about Rep. Ryan taking this approach. (Although some of his Republican peers are reportedly disappointed that he did not also call for the defunding of health care reform.)
As we recently explained, the President and Congressional Democrats have already completely capitulated to Republican demands on reduced levels of spending to be set out in a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the government running. The shutdown resulted from House Republicans’ refusal to approve a CR that did not also defund or delay health care reform, which is an unrelated matter because it is funded separately (and in fact its implementation moves forward even now as much of the government is closed).
We also explained that the need to increase the debt ceiling does not involve increasing the deficit or increasing the size of government, but only carrying out the laws already enacted by Congress. And yet, House Republicans have demanded several policy “concessions” in return for raising the debt limit, which is necessary to avoid a catastrophic default on U.S. debt obligations.
In his Walls Street Journal op-ed, Ryan argues that we should “ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare... reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and reduce costs... and ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.”
President Obama, according to Ryan, “has embraced these ideas in budget proposals he has submitted to Congress. And in earlier talks with congressional Republicans, he has discussed combining Medicare's Part A and Part B.”
Others have pointed out that all of President Obama’s comprehensive budget proposals have, in fact, included the entitlement cuts Ryan mentions, but coupled them with increased revenues. For example, CTJ has explained that the President’s proposed budget blueprint for fiscal year 2014 would have raised revenue by $851 billion over a decade (not counting certain revenue-raising provisions that the President unfortunately wants to use to offset tax breaks for businesses). The idea has always been that the President would agree to some spending cuts if Congressional Republicans agree to a revenue increase.
A graph from the Washington Post shows that the offers traded back and forth between President Obama and House Speak John Boehner leading up to the “fiscal cliff” deal all included significant revenue increases as well as cuts in spending. (Yes, even Speaker Boehner offered significant revenue increases initially).
But Ryan ignores all of that. He argues that a deal to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling should include a move towards tax reform that would not raise revenue. “Rep. Dave Camp and Sen. Max Baucus have been working for more than a year now on a bipartisan plan to reform the tax code,” Ryan writes. “They agree on the fundamental principles: Broaden the base, lower the rates and simplify the code.”
Actually, one of the most fundamental principles needed in designing a tax code is determining the amount of revenue you want to raise, and Camp and Baucus have not come to any agreement on that. Camp, like Ryan, has repeatedly called for a reform of the tax code that does not raise any additional revenue, while Baucus has called for a revenue increase without being specific about the amount.
A recent CTJ report explains that the level of revenue the federal government will collect under our current tax laws would equal about 18.5 percent of our economy a decade from now. That’s lower than the level of federal spending for all but a few years over the past three decades. With the retirement of the baby-boomers and the need for public investments in infrastructure, education, nutrition and other programs that will help us thrive as an economy and as a nation, it is simply absurd to call for a budget deal that precludes any increase in revenue.