Credit House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan with one of the more selfless political acts in recent memory. For some time Social Security, and increasingly Medicare, have been assigned an untouchable status by both parties that would make Eliot Ness jealous. It's not hard to determine why given the political thunderstorm Ryan is navigating.
Last weekend, none other than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich assaulted Ryan's entitlement reform plan as "right-wing social engineering." (Gingrich, who has suffered painful rebuke from the Republican base, has since retracted his statement and called Ryan personally to apologize.) The majority of GOP officeholders have cheered Ryan's plan to drastically alter Medicare and Social Security. Whether they stick to these praises when facing their own re-election is a series of profiles in courage yet to be written. [Vote now: Should Paul Ryan's budget plan become law?]
Entitlement reform is messy business. Americans abhor government handouts until they come to depend on them. Furthermore, the demographic that consumes the largest portion of these benefits, senior citizens, happens to be the group that votes with by far the most frequency. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the debt ceiling.]
Ryan recently passed on the opportunity to run for his state's U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl. Certainly, the blow-back from his budget proposal factored into his decision. Ryan has faced mixed reaction from his constituents, but he doesn't let the negativity impair his crusade. He can, the rationale follows, more affect public policy from a perch atop the House Budget Committee than as the junior senator from Wisconsin. Ryan is a happy numbers warrior; versed enough in wonkery to make his point, and young enough to convince people that true spending reform matters to him.
The Tea Party made a name for itself by decrying wasteful government spending and insisting Congress right the fiscal ship. Ryan is generating much needed light to augment the rhetorical heat. Ryan's plan isn't perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right direction, and he deserves credit for truly taking on issues to which most others in Washington only pay lip service. [See editorial cartoons about the Tea Party.]