I have been a fan of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) for several years now. I voted last year for Mitt Romney -- nose held firmly tight -- only because of Ryan's presence on the ticket. Quite simply, he is one of the only politicians in Washington who has demonstrated any sort of willingness to substantively address Medicare reform -- and as both a young voter and a fiscal conservative, correcting that program's terrifying budgetary math ranks near the top of my priorities.
Our country's long-term debt crisis is really a crisis of an aging population coupled with rising health care costs. These factors will devastate Medicare if Congress obstinately insists on perpetuating the status quo into the decades ahead. As a society, we have agreed that the government should guarantee health coverage for senior citizens. If we are to guarantee coverage for future seniors, too, then comprehensive reform is essential. This isn't a controversial assertion -- President Obama himself has publicly acknowledged it. He is right that this is the work of a generation: the system will go bankrupt if changes are not made, cheating millions of seniors out of coverage that they were promised. Ryan's voucher-style plan for Medicare reform -- borrowed largely from ideas promoted by Brookings Institution scholar Alice Rivlin -- would go a long way in correcting the structural fiscal issues that will otherwise sink the system in the decades to come.
Ryan's proposals are important less because his plan is the only viable one in Washington -- Simpson-Bowles, of course, remains on the table -- but because it is viable at all. It is crucial that competing entitlement reform ideas are discussed seriously and transparently. The GOP simply must have a credible plan on this issue. It is to Ryan's immense credit that he stepped forward on behalf of his party to address an issue that most Republicans have until recently refused to touch. Moreover, he has demonstrated that he is willing to compromise with his critics. Alice Rivlin initially opposed Ryan's plan, for instance, but warmed to it when he allowed for seniors to opt into traditional Medicare instead -- a change that also brought Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) on board.
It is perplexing to me, then, that Ryan's new budget is premised on pure ideological wish-fulfillment: the repeal of Obamacare. There were always aspects of his plan that relied on rosy projections -- an unrealistic rate of economic growth, for instance -- but never anything so blatantly absurd. Obamacare is the law of the land, and it is not going anywhere. The new budget is dead-on-arrival if it insists upon repeal.
To be sure, I opposed Obamacare. Regardless of its merits as a universal coverage program, the law does nothing to control skyrocketing costs -- without a doubt the number-one problem facing our health care system. It is also troubling to me that a supposedly progressive president would champion a law that mandates doing business with corporations as a requirement of citizenship. I was disappointed when the Supreme Court upheld the law, and I was disappointed that President Obama was reelected, thus securing the law's fate. Republicans poured their all into blocking and then overturning the law, but it was not to be.
Yet, Ryan can't let it go. He has adopted an uncharacteristic attitude: one that is more devoted to ideological grandstanding than to practical governance. Where is the man who worked with Sen. Wyden to make his reform proposals more palatable to the center-left? Where is the man who bucked the Tea Party and voted to raise the debt ceiling? Where is the man who voted for TARP over the objections of right-wing populists who would have rather watched the economy burn? He was nowhere to be found when he unveiled his new budget.
I still admire Rep. Ryan and hope that he continues to make strides toward making serious entitlement reform possible. But if he wants to govern -- rather than simply make an even bigger name for himself -- then he needs to bow to reality and accept that elections have consequences -- even elections that he lost.