Paul Ryan converts David Brooks
Two months, ago in a debate against Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) at the American Enterprise Institute, David Brooks argued we really weren't on a fiscal precipice and the real question is not how big government is, but what it should be doing.
Now, he's parroting Ryan's warnings. Brooks writes today:
The coming budget cuts have nothing to do with merit. They have to do with the inexorable logic of mathematics. Over the past decades, spending in nearly every section of the federal budget has exploded to unsustainable levels. Each year, your family's share of the national debt increases by about $12,000. By 2015, according to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Moody's will downgrade U.S. debt.
The greatest pressure comes from entitlements. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt has now risen to 47 percent of the budget. In nine years, entitlements are estimated to consume 64 percent of the budget, according to the invaluable folks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. By 2030, they are projected consume 70 percent of the budget.
Brooks, however, misunderstands the thinking of newly-elected Republicans. He pronounces, "The supposedly rabid Republican freshmen are actually big government conservatives. They will cut programs that do measurable good while doing little to solve our long-range fiscal crisis." Brooks should talk to a few of these freshmen. These are steely-eyed fiscal hawks for whom cuts in discretionary spending are a beginning, not an end unto themselves.
Perhaps Brooks is trying to appear "balanced" in light of Obama's abject and obvious lack of leadership in addressing our fiscal mess. ("The president is unwilling to ask for shared sacrifice if the Republicans won't ask with him. Fine. But he hasn't even used his pulpit to prepare the ground. He announces unserious cuts with lavish fanfare.")
Brooks is closer to the mark in identifying progress by a group of sober senators in garnering support for the debt commission report as a starting point for serious discussions about entitlement reform. (And then, of course, there is Ryan's own Roadmap for America.) It's taken a couple of months, but now Brooks mimics Ryan:
It's not only about debt; it's about freedom. It's about whether we get to make budget choices or whether we have our lives dictated by the inexorable growth of programs beyond our control.
If Ryan can convert a moderate like Brooks, the Wisconsin congressman might just be the most able advocate for fiscal discipline and an overhaul of our entitlement programs. And if he can do that, Ryan will become the de facto leader of the conservative movement.
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