Rep. Ryan’s ‘Path to Prosperity’…and Flounder Gigging

If you’ve ever been flounder-gigging, or engaged in some other form of gigging-type activity, you may have inadvertently acquired a skill very important for understanding Paul Ryan’s deficit reduction plan.

Stay with me here.

In order to hit something beneath the surface you have to account for way the water refracts light.  If you aim directly for the spot where your eyes think that flounder is resting on the shallow bottom you’re going to miss.  The tasty little bugger isn’t there and the humiliation of store-bought seafood awaits you.

My intention was to review the Paul Ryan and Simpson-Bowles (S-B) deficit reduction plans and compare them side by side, but a complication quickly revealed itself.  The Simpson-Bowles proposal is the product of a bi-partisan commission composed of smart, experienced figures some of whose careers no longer depend on winning votes.

Ryan, who was a member of that commission, endorses many of its conclusions and seems to agree with the final report on almost every salient point.  But he can’t aim straight for a solution.  Ryan has a job to do.

Where S-B tries to present a final plan, a best possible outcome balancing all the competing interests, Ryans’ Path to Prosperity is a specifically partisan document.  S-B outlines a goal formed in the airy reaches of high-wonkery.  Ryan is laying out a negotiating position, creating room for give and take.  They are apples and oranges.  Or better yet, souffle versus sausage.

It is unproductive to get too hung up on some of the stranger items in Ryan’s proposal.  Why in the hell does a plan to balance the budget include a public school voucher system for the District of Columbia?  What does it have to do with a repeal of last year’s Wall Street regulations?  The odd bits are in there because Ryan isn’t free to simply lay out a sensible proposal.

Ryan’s miserable challenge is to generate Republican enthusiasm for a painful reform agenda that never once in all of its sixty pages uses the words “Jesus,” “abortion” or “gay.”  Ryan’s proposal is rich in Washington’s favorite nutrient – Vitamin BS, but that’s necessary under the circumstances.  Cut the man some slack.

Here are some of the very promising areas where Ryan broadly agrees with the President’s Commission:

1.  A flatter, simpler tax system that removes the expensive loopholes (tax expenditures) that add so much cost, unfairness and complexity along with a reduction in our extremely high corporate tax rates.

2.  Entitlement reforms that would cut healthcare spending and deliver greater independence to the states and end the long federal raid on Social Security taxes.

3.  Some very detailed structural reforms to the Congressional budgeting process aimed at limiting abuses.

Then he…embraces some other stuff.  Some of it is very interesting.  Some of it makes sense.  Some of it leaves you shaking your head.  And the rest is just partisan smokescreen.  His ideas for privatizing Medicare and Medicaid are particularly regretable.  I’ll break those off into blogable chunks in a subsequent article.

On the whole he’s done very good work.  When you account for all the angles and consider the totality of what he’s aiming for, Ryan deserves enormous credit.  He has earned the right to carry the Republican Flounder Gig into this debate.

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