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Posted at 3:27 PM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Rep. Paul Ryan: Our fiscal future and our moral health

By Jennifer Rubin

We know there is a fiscal crisis looming if we do not get our entitlement programs under control. But the failure to rein in these obligations also poses a moral danger to the country, according to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

At the American Enterprise Institute last December in his debate with New York Times columnist David Brooks, Ryan took up this theme:

On the morals side, I find the prospect of irreparable moral damage just as troubling, and as I know David does as well. Europe's people have labored under the rock of its welfare state for decades, and now Europe's debt crisis has lifted this rock and we see the moral ugliness that has developed underneath. Turn on the TV and watch French teenagers lobbing Molotov cocktails at each other and at cars, burning down schools, protesting advancement of the retirement age for fat pensions that they haven't even begun to work yet [sic]. Take a look at British university students, who are shattering windows because they don't want to share the cost of their own educations. Greek mobs murdering bank tellers, because their workplace happens to be a symbol of fiscal reality? Good grief. Let's contrast these riots with the Tea Party protests that we've watched over the last year or two. Instead of taking to the streets to demand more from the government, these citizens took to the streets peacefully to ask the government to do less, to take less, and to return itself to the role government was envisioned by our founders.

I spoke to Ryan by phone today and asked what he meant by that and if we are facing a breakdown of the social fabric in America. He said: "The social insurance strategies of the 20th century are going bankrupt in the 21st century. But that is an economic argument." However, he argued that there is more to this than a fiscal crisis. At stake, he said, is whether we will have a "dramatically different America" in which "upward mobility, self-reliance and self-governance" are not the prevailing features of this country.

Ryan explained that these values are "given up in a dependency and complacency culture." Once those values are eroded, Ryan said, people "look to the government as the provider of their economic well-being."

In the sort of European violence that he described in his AEI speech, we see that there is "a moral decay component" to this. "Once we believe that our rights come from government," Ryan argued, we inevitably wind up "surrendering" to government.

Ryan explained that his 2008 Roadmap for America (drafted in 2007) assumed that a debt crisis would ensue in about 10 years if we did not change course. "Now, because of the Great Recession and the financial meltdown, that got sped up," he explained. He told me he thinks the public is "farther along" than the politicians are in recognizing where we are and what is required. "The fiscal pressures at all levels of government are leading to a crescendo, a tipping point," he explained. And while there is a sea change in public opinion, Ryan argued that politicians now have to do their part. "[Gov.] Scott Walker owes it to Wisconsin and we owe it to the nation to at least let the people choose" their economic future, Ryan said.

Unlike Europe, Ryan observed, America has a "deep emotional and intellectual attachment" to a dynamic, entrepreneurial economy and to the ideal of limited government. When he visits voters in Wisconsin, he said, voters tell him "America is on the wrong track" and they "are really worried their kids will be worse off" than their parents. The willingness to sacrifice is there, Ryan said. Unlike French students who rioted over reductions in retirement benefits, Ryan observed, "Look at what happened in the streets of America in the last two years. People gathered in peaceful demonstrations to ask their government to do less."

What about the uncivil and anti-democratic behavior in Wisconsin? Ryan good-naturedly suggested that "what you see on TV in Madison is not Wisconsin." He explained that in his home state, there are "civil people, friendly people." Although Madison has become a "flash point" with many out-of-staters, Ryan said, the crowds and the absentee legislators are "not who we are."

Although Ryan is optimistic that "people are ready for and hungry" for fiscal leadership and are "less subject to demagoguery," he is less optimistic that the president is ready to lead on these vital fiscal issues. What we do in the next couple of years, he argued, "will lock in the trajectory for America for the 21st century." And that, as he explained, amounts to nothing less than deciding "what kind of country we want to be."

President Obama is not leading, but Ryan is prepared to. In a few weeks he will present his 2012 budget proposal and plans for entitlement reform. If no one else will do it, Ryan seems fully up to the task of arresting America's fiscal downward spiral and thereby pulling America back from the brink moral decay that has ensnared Europe.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 3, 2011; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

I hope the Republicans introduce and spell out their various "roadmaps" as well as a budget that begins to implement the fiscal changes required to get this country back to work again.

Among these roadmaps are of course Ryan's, and one by Rep. Devin Nunes (CA-21), "A Roadmap for America’s Energy" (see:

Futurehttp://nunes.house.gov/_files/EnergyRoadmapTrifold_2011.pdf

http://nunes.house.gov/_files/SummaryoftheEnergyRoadmap0.pdf

One hopes there are more of these to come (for example in health care reform maybe education reform). Those extant show Obama's stupid "investments" to be misinformed and laughable.

Posted by: jafco | March 3, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Rep. Paul Ryan: Our fiscal future and our moral health

(1)I'm not going to continue my usual rant,but our fiscal future,first and foremost,depends on our addressing issues of Monetary Policy.
(2)I'm delighted that Paul wants to lend a hand on the nation's moral health,but it would be so much cooler if he had a plan,or even some suggestions on improving the job situation* in the short term. I hope he read Mr. Roves's excellent insights in the WSJ,Opinion Section,today.
(3)*Business Owners have some very good reasons not to do very much new hiring in the US. Unfortunately,reducing the government deficits doesn't create a good job market,neither does lifing the nation's moral health. What does create incentives to hire is when consumers and businesses have two things:(1)Money to Spend(2)Desire to Spend
(4)We hear over and over how much cash businesses have on their balance sheets,so why aren't they hiring. I wish it were true,but the cash is mainly debt,which if used,will have to be paid back,and if used,might not be able to be re-borrowed,especially at the 0% level it was recently borrowed at. It's much more difficult for a company to make hiring decisions based on spending borrowed $s than it is based on actual cash derived from profitable business acvtivities. This is one of the dirty little secrets of our fiscal deformity,the money borrowed by these companies is a symptom of a new giant debt bubble.

Posted by: rcaruth | March 3, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I'm not nearly as optimistic as Ryan about the public's enthusiasm to significantly restructure the role of govt and significantly reshape entitlement spending. Concern about the annual operating deficit and the long-term debt pileup has always mirrored concern about the environment; up and down, hot and cold, chief concern of only a few. Like major environmental policy, major deficit policy always has a very limited window of opportunity, because it never takes long for other things to supersede and replace them in the pecking order. Gore has discovered this over and over again regarding environmental policy, and I think Ryan will soon discover the same thing about restructuring govt spending. His window of opportunity is already closing pretty rapidly, I think, and Madison is not helping his cause. While the protestors are living in the past, they are providing an unpleasant glimpse to the larger public about what's at stake and how deep the reform needs to be. That's gonna scare an awful lot of people into giving the status quo a second and more favorable look. Hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so.

Posted by: mbcnewspaper | March 3, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I understand that Jennifer is an opinionated blogger, and she is not expected to act as an objective reporter.

However this column is essentially a love letter to Congressman Ryan. It would be nice if she did more than just uncritically repeat his responses to her leading questions.

Posted by: mustangs79 | March 3, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

The budget shortfall is so vast -- about $5,000 per American this year -- and the country still has enough credit in the bond market to stay on this reckless spending track for a few more years, that Obama has made a political calculation not to address the problem at all. Let the Republicans talk about the necessity of cutting entitlements, and then demagogue the crap out of them. Polls show that a big majority of voters want spending cut, but 80% don't want entitlements touched!

Can Ryan educate the voters faster than Obama can appeal to their ignorance and emotions? P.T. Barnum said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the American people". I hope Barnum was wrong, but I'm not confident.

Posted by: eoniii | March 3, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse

mustangs79,
I think you may be lost. The slobbering love letter blogs can be found via Klein and Sargent at the WaPo.

Posted by: bzod9999 | March 3, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

So, the GOP/Tea party strategy is to fix all that ails America on the backs of public employees, retirees and the disabled. When the H*** is the GOP/Tea party going to start talking about the 'moral' obligation of the wealthy to pay their fair share of the cost of balancing our budget? I guess that's too hard to do because it might upset the rich, who have 'bought' the GOP.

Posted by: kinsman_bob | March 3, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

So, the GOP/Tea party strategy is to fix all that ails America on the backs of public employees, retirees and the disabled. When the H*** is the GOP/Tea party going to start talking about the 'moral' obligation of the wealthy to pay their fair share of the cost of balancing our budget? I guess that's too hard to do because it might upset the rich, who have 'bought' the GOP.

Posted by: kinsman_bob
*********************************
What is the "wealthy's fair share". In 2008, the most recent year available, the top 0.1% of taxpayers paid 18.47% of all federal income taxes. The top 1% paid 38.02%, the top 5% paid 58.72%, the top 10% paid 69.94%, and the top 25% paid 86.34%. All of these percentages were up from the 2000 tax year, Bill Clinton's last as President. The bottom 50% paid only 2.70% of income taxes in 2008, down from 3.91% in Clinton's last year.
http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html

Posted by: eoniii | March 3, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Wow, J.Rubin talks about moral health? Thanks to her advocacy for open borders, OUR American neighborhoods have turned into MS13 gangland. Thanks to her advocacy for foreign liberal/socialist policies to help out every other country other than the U.S., we're broke.

But I guess upper west side/NOVA liberals such as Ms. Rubin aren't too concerned about our neighborhoods OR our fiscal health. MS13 tends to stay away from rich neighborhoods were she lives.

Posted by: mfray | March 3, 2011 6:10 PM | Report abuse

"Can Ryan educate the voters faster than Obama can appeal to their ignorance"

I don't know eoniii. Faster than liberal GW Bush was able to educate the U.S. into draining a trillion bucks out of the treasury on a neocon/liberal war in Iraq?

I guess we'll see. We were stupid enough to buy GW's "big government" republican liberalism, we'll probably be dumb enough to buy Obamas socialist liberalism.

Posted by: mfray | March 3, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Here are two unavoidable facts:

1) Total federal spending is on track to INCREASE next year by 7%. Did you get a 7% raise this year? Did your investments earn 7% or better? Have your expenses been reduced by 7%? Didn't think so.

2) Next year's budget borrows $1 for every $1 in revenue. That's right, Uncle Sam is spending TWICE AS MUCH as he can afford. That's $1,600 Billion Dollars a year in excess spending.

How does that make you feel about those wild and crazy Republicans who want to cut -- wait for it -- ONE HUNDRED BEEELION DOLLARS? $100 Billion is 1/16th of our annual overspending. It really is just a drop in the bucket, which sounds ridiculous, because $100 Billion OUGHT to be a significant number. It only seems small because our over-spending is so huge.

With these facts staring us in the face, it's a wonder we haven't marched on Washington and thrown these bums out in the street. If you and I can manage a budget, so can the government. Don't let anyone tell you any different. Running a tight ship is just baseline competence.

Posted by: dmarney | March 3, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse

mfray:

In at least one respect your ignorance betrays you. The amount of money we spend on foreign aid will have no appreciable impact on our perilous debt situation. To bastardize Billary: It's the entitlements, stupid. Foreign aid most certainly is not the reason we are broke. As it happens, I also think that most of our foreign aid should be eliminated. The overwhelming majority of it has no impact on our security and it certainly is not our moral obligation to lift out of the muck those that live in it.

And it is just plain stupid to call Jennifer Rubin an Upper West Side liberal.

Posted by: gord11 | March 3, 2011 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I am laughing so hard at the idea that the TPers were asking the government "to do less." What they were demanding was that the government do less for everyone but them and "KEEP THE GOVERNMENT OUT OF MY MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY!"

The rich demanding deficit reduction by slashing anything that doesn't directly benefit them while adding to it with tax cuts for themselves is hypocritical and schizophrenic. We have the lowest tax rates in modern history, lower than any other first world country, and it still isn't low enough for these self-centered pigs because they don't know the meaning of the word "enough."

Posted by: fingersfly | March 4, 2011 8:11 AM | Report abuse

To hear an American politician or journalist speak on the moral dangers of entitlements is like listening to a character from Peter Pan.

Posted by: Northernlite | March 4, 2011 8:26 AM | Report abuse

gord11 said:
"In at least one respect your ignorance betrays you. The amount of money we spend on foreign aid will have no appreciable impact on our perilous debt situation. To bastardize Billary: It's the entitlements, stupid. Foreign aid most certainly is not the reason we are broke. As it happens, I also think that most of our foreign aid should be eliminated. The overwhelming majority of it has no impact on our security and it certainly is not our moral obligation to lift out of the muck those that live in it.

And it is just plain stupid to call Jennifer Rubin an Upper West Side liberal."
----------------------------------------------------------------------
It makes no sense to you because you're a liberal just as Ms. Rubin and the rest of the neocons.

No one mentioned foreign aid, but nonetheless, foreign aid is welfare, and it is NOT conservative, it is socialist pure and simple. Maybe a liberl such as yourself would even consider using that money on REAL Americans, but I guess not.

To bastardize your statement, it's the neo/non-con policies of spending trillions doing "hopey changey" things in Iraq and other parts of the world that are driving us into bankruptcy.

And it's just plain stupid to think Jennifer Rubin has ANYTHING to do with conservatism, she does not.

Posted by: mfray | March 4, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Canada's political, economic and social welfare systems are pretty much like Europe's (eg: universal health care)- although banks are tightly regualted - yet Canaada is doing much better economically than the United States (eg: better figures on employment and housing foreclosures).

How can that be?

Posted by: GaryPeschell | March 4, 2011 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I want to congratulate Jennifer Rubin for writing her article which is a good example of reporting what someone said about his position on entitlements which was very good 'reporting'. We so seldom get 'reporting' anymore but opinion masked as 'reporting'. Whether you agree with Paul Ryan or not, this is his opinion which he supports by facts he has gleaned from his study of the what has taken place in our country in the past century for better or for worse.

Posted by: thelawlers1 | March 4, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse

So what about the trend of the last thirty years increasing the income gap between the average worker and the elites? Ryan just ignores the inconvenient truth that moral and ethical behavior would require some adjustment/control of that trend, lest we become the destination for out-sourced jobs ourselves at $1.25 an hour.
And I live in Madison and he doesn't know what's been going on here. I lived through the anti-war protests of the late '60's and early '70's and I can tell you that the tens of thousands of people who were here these past few weeks were not only more orderly and well-behaved than any I saw in the old days but also better behaved than most school children on any playground. These people are teachers and nurses and sanitation drivers and DNR wardens and scientists from the university and students, who have an enormous amount to lose from the current budget fiasco. This state is going absolutely backwards into the gilded age and the educational system, currently one of the best in the country, will be no more if the GOP gets its way. Lotsa luck Paul, you are blind, deaf and not nearly as smart as you think you are.

Posted by: rewriter | March 6, 2011 1:47 AM | Report abuse

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