You have to hand it to Rep. Paul Ryan. He clearly doesn’t read the polls, or doesn’t care what they say.
That is the sort of snide comment often used in the political and media worlds to deride policymakers for offering up unpopular ideas. But in our ridiculously poll-driven, finger-in-the-wind climate in Washington, Ryan’s behavior displays an unusual courage and leadership in the budget battle.
To be sure, there are troublesome elements to Ryan’s budget proposal. He wants to block-grant Medicaid, the federal-state healthcare program for the poor and disabled. Ryan’s idea is that states should have more flexibility in running the program; critics rightly worry that the burden for the expensive program will shift to the states, and that some states will underserve needy populations. On Medicare, the federal health plan for seniors, Ryan wants to set up a system under which seniors choose among private plans subsidized by Medicare. Understandably, that idea makes some people concerned that subsidies will drop and coverage will be inconsistent. The whole idea of Medicare is the pauper-or-prince standard, under which everyone in the program gets the same deal. [Vote now: Should Ryan's budget plan become law?]
Those are legitimate concerns, but at least the conversation is budget-driven, instead of poll-driven or campaign-driven. Everyone, pretty much, agrees that the budget is out of control. A quick look at the pie charts shows that a huge portion of the budget is being spent on entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That doesn’t mean the budget knife should slice brutally into programs meant for old, poor, and sick people. But refusing to at least tweak those programs, simply because polls show that Americans are nervous about it, is not leadership.
Nor is it leadership to use a budget impasse to force cuts to entities some lawmakers don’t like, such as Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency. And it’s not leadership to use a budget document to undo laws that passed the previous Congress. Taking the majority doesn’t mean that everything done before one party was in power—and before some of its more radical members were even in office—is wiped clean. [Read more about the deficit and national debt.]
Some GOP members are turning the blame on President Obama, accusing him of "punting" and failing to show leadership. But it is Congress that holds the ball right now; if anyone’s "punting," it’s members of the legislative branch who would rather use the budget impasse to undermine Obama than take their responsibility to actually solve the budget impasse. It’s times like this that one misses former House GOP leader Tom DeLay and his "No Whining" coffee mug.