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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 02/11/2011

Paul Ryan converts David Brooks

By Jennifer Rubin

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.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 11, 2011; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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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

Actually Ron Paul is way beyond Ryan because he is actually confronting the "Core" problem which is that the Fed is in charge of our monetary system without check or balance because it is a Fiat system. This is not popular,but if Paul is correct,nothing will change,until our actual money is changed. In this case,if Paul is correct,truth will trump conventional thinking,although I admit,RP will be in the ground,before any of this is resolved.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 11, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

The entitlement trajectory is indeed "inexorable", but what can't be sustained won't be sustained. Call me naive, but I really believe that if Obama were man enough to face the entitlement crisis, the Republicans would work with him. There's nothing the Republicans can do if Obama would just demagogue any proposed cuts.

Posted by: eoniii | February 11, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

eoniii, You're surely right. Obama is actually the perfect person to pave the way for entitlement reform. If someone as far to the left as Obama finally admits that our entitlements are unsustainable and must be reformed, who is going to oppose or demagogue him? Only those on the uber-left, who can't be taken seriously anyway.

I remember Harry Reid agreeing that Social Security had to be reformed when Bill Clinton brought up the subject during his presidency. However, when Bush 43 tried to fix SS, Reid demagogued it so vociferously and shamefully that it ultimately failed. (I wish the R party ran ads of Reid voicing support for SS reform from the Clinton years at the time Bush 43 was pushing for it).

Would the likes of Reid dare oppose SS reform if Obama supported it?

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 11, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

All this whining about Social Security being an "entitlement" is disingenuous since SS is funded by workers and their employers, not the government. When the government has to pay back the money it has been borrowing from the Social Security trust fund to finance tax cuts and wars, it's going to get ugly.

Posted by: fingersfly | February 12, 2011 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Thank you fingersfly. In my opinion, American seniors should mobilize and sue the U.S. government for raiding the Social Security trust fund to bankroll its two costly and bloody wars and to make up for its refusal to tax the wealthy and close the loopholes for big corporations.

Posted by: ichief | February 13, 2011 10:04 PM | Report abuse

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