Paul Ryan and congressional Republicans are making a historic reform bid

Led by a youthful-looking congressman from Wisconsin with a big mind, a big plan and an admirable capacity to risk it all on the political fight that will define the future prosperity of a republic, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives this week went “all-in” behind a historic plan to reform entitlements, slash discretionary spending and grab control of an irrationally opulent, debt-ridden federal estate poised to otherwise sink a nation.

The plan, which Republicans have dubbed the “Path to Prosperity,” would reform Medicare, one of the by-far largest drivers of the nation’s $14 trillion national debt. It would give states greater flexibility to implement Medicaid, and it would reset discretionary spending to the 2008 levels that preceded the reckless fiscal tutelage of Barack Obama. In all, Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” would slice federal expenditures by $6 trillion, resetting a fiscal trajectory that’s currently bending toward bankruptcy.

But unlike similar GOP pushes of yore, the plan is smart where it should be, giving it a true chance of meeting substantial success in the all-important court of public opinion. Importantly, current and soon-to-be retirees are held harmless, and many other features provide substantive insulation from the predictable attacks from the AARP and other members of the “entitlement confederacy.”

How dramatic is the budget reform proposal authored by Ryan? If he succeeds in enacting even a third of it, he will have done more to cut the unsustainable, unaffordable, indefensible reach of the federal government than any man since Ronald Reagan. If he enacts the bulk of it, he will be responsible for reducing government outlays more than any man who has ever wandered the Earth.

Maggie Thatcher would cheer the eye-popping audacity in Ryan’s plan. So would James Madison. And Edmund Burke. And Cicero.

How breathtakingly risky is the entire political proposition? If Paul Ryan, John Boehner and congressional Republicans fail to convince the American people of the need for and wisdom behind their budget reform plan, Republicans very likely could lose a political majority that itself is only months-old, and Republican members of Congress who vote for it will carry a scarlet letter into the next election. If they survive that election, its painful remnants will spill into the next election and the next and the next.

Don’t think for a second that the Democrats, whipped last fall for their reckless stewardship in Washington, aren’t aware of the huge political opportunities that Ryan’s bold move awaken. They are banging their drums of war with all the zeal of a deposed emperor upon the realization that there is a path back to power.

Just listen to Paul Begala, former senior political strategist to Bill Clinton and current CNN talking head. In a column entitled “Paul Ryan: the Dr. Kevorkian of Medicare,” “Begala the Demagogue” trots out that familiar, left-wing, class warfare con game:

“Republicans have always hated Medicare, but most Americans have always loved it. Now, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republicans are trying to kill it once and for all.  I suspect most Americans see Medicare — the single-payer health system that covers seniors — as an essential element of our freedom. But not Congressman Ryan, nor many other Republicans. Ryan would end Medicare as we know it, replacing it with a voucher that seniors would take to insurance companies, upon whose tender mercies their lives and health would then depend.”

But as with all things in life, great risk is not without reward for the Republicans charging the hill under Ryan’s reformist flag. If they succeed in whole or even in substantial part in implementing their “Path to Prosperity,” they will have literally moved America out from beneath the black clouds of imminent fiscal ruin — a feat that, by itself, makes the whole fight not only appropriate, not only worthy, not only necessary, but indispensable.

And how great is the upside for the youthful Ryan personally if his “Path to Prosperity” succeeds?  My guess: Coloradans and the rest of the country might someday have a chance to vote for the competent and compelling Wisnconite for an office as lofty as the ideas and leadership Ryan is now so vigorously showing.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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