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Paul Ryan’s Missing Op-Ed

Congressman Paul Ryan penned an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal forging a path to “ending this stalemate.”  What is amazing about this op-ed is what it fails to mention.  Amidst the garrulous piece on Medicare reform, Social Security, and tax policy, there is not one word about the very impetus for this so-called stalemate – Obamacare.

Ryan rightfully notes that this is “our moment to get a down payment on the debt and boost the economy. But we have to act now.”

There is nothing that affects the debt and economy more than the consummation of a new entitlement into our welfare state.  What better way to jump-start the economy than by pre-empting the worst piece of legislation from taking effect?

This op-ed is a confirmation of our worst fears.  Over the past few days, many in GOP leadership have been privately and publicly shifting the focus of this battle from Obamacare to a grand bargain over tax policy and entitlement reform in the abstract.  This is the road to cave city.  It is simply absurd to suggest that we ignore Obamacare yet fight on other things for a number of reasons:

1)      Social Security has been around since the ‘30s; Medicare has been around since the ‘60s; the tax system has been around for decades.  We’re not getting rid of any of this any time soon.  We are left with just a few ideas to tweak these programs.  That opportunity is not going away any time soon. Obamacare, on the other hand, is just taking root now.  Why would we ignore the most imminent threat for a long-term policy problem?

2)      Social Security and Medicare are very popular, and people are leery of any changes, even ones that we think are positive.  So we are going to ditch the fight over Obamacare, which is extremely unpopular, to fight for Medicare reform?  Really, Paul Ryan?  And they think we are politically stupid?

3)      How in the world are we going to implement Medicare premium support on top of a healthcare system built on Obamacare?  If you are a Republican who believes the fight against Obamacare is lost, which is presumably the view of Paul Ryan, then stop deluding yourself into thinking we will implement Medicare reform.

4)      The same people who suggest we cannot block a bad law from taking effect with control of just one branch of government are suggesting that we can proactively craft positive legislation, such as tax reform or restructuring of Medicare.  Really?

5)      We will never win any serious free market reforms to Medicare or private accounts for Social Security from a grand bargain.  The best we will get is some minor austerity cut to Medicare (not structural reform), which will then be blamed on us.  Tax reform will take the form of fast-track authority to discuss tax policy, which will inevitably lead to tax increases.

The House has held surprisingly strong until now.  But if they plan on ditching the fight against Obamacare, they should just pass a clean CR and end this immediately.  We all have our policy pet peeves.  I would love to get rid of the ethanol mandate and repeal the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate.  But it is simply preposterous to make this fight about anything other than Obamacare.  Unless, of course, the ultimate intention is to fight for nothing.

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