Kudos to Rep. Paul Ryan for coming forward with some sort of serious plan to reduce the deficit. If I were a voting member of the esteemed, but lowly approved, House, I wouldn’t vote for it as is, but it’s a good starting point to get slackers on both sides of the isle talking about issues that we should have been talking about long ago. You can read a Time analysis, including Ryan’s full document and what the CBO had to say about it, here.
$6.2 Trillion in 10 years is quite a massacre of any budget, even one as big as ours, and I’m not willing to say that it is necessarily too big of a cut. But the devil is in the details, and at this point, there aren’t enough details. Here’s what we know. Taxes would be simplified, and thank God for that! It would mean lower taxes for individuals and considerably higher taxes for large corporations, such as GE, which somehow got away with paying no – that’s $0 – taxes last year. This wouldn’t raise any money – it would essentially be a revenue neutral provision – but it would surely be fairer. Medicare and Medicaid would go the way of pensions and basically become defined benefit programs. Instead of the government paying the full costs of insuring qualified people, it would pay only a portion of the costs, leaving the rest to be paid by the people benefiting from the insurance. Subsidies would be on a sliding scale and tied to the growth in the economy instead of the growth of healthcare costs, which have historically amassed at a much higher rate.
Ryan’s Path to Prosperity also would repeal some but not all of the Affordable Care Act (known in political circus land as Obamacare) passed last year. The parts of the law that would cost money and require most people to purchase health insurance would cease to exist, meaning that the millions more people that the Affordable Care Act is expected to insure will remain uninsured. The author of the Time article was very astute in also pointing out the problem behind repealing the individual mandate. Ryan says nothing about repealing the current provisions that insurers must insure anyone who applies and cannot tie premium amounts to level of risk. Mind you, these are very important provisions to keep if the elderly are now going to have to buy their healthcare from the private market. If these provisions stay but the mandate goes, then we’ll have a real crisis on our hands, because many, many people will drop out of the insurance market because it will be too expensive, which will cause rates to skyrocket, causing more people to drop out.
What conservatives don’t seem to want to understand about the individual mandate is that it is not about the individual. When one person decides not to – or cannot afford – health insurance, it inevitably raises the rates for everyone else. This is a hard, proven fact. The individual mandate is an old Republican idea (honestly, look up Gingrich’s 1990s plan, or Romney’s Massachusetts plan) that requires people to either buy insurance or pay a fee to offset the costs incurred to the system by their choice to not buy insurance. The mandate forces people to pay their keep, which sounds like a pretty conservative idea; don’t you think?
This is the main problem that I see with the Ryan plan. It reminds me of asking a 10-year-old to predict what would happen if they were to cheat on a test. Some of them would simply answer that they would get a good grade; many more would say that they would get in trouble. But none of them have the capacity to think abstractly about what consequences that action would have long-term. If they were caught, they would likely be labeled a cheater for a very long time, or maybe even be expelled, changing their lives significantly. If they were not caught, they would be likely to do it again and carry those habits into other realms of their lives. I’m not saying that Rep. Ryan has the brain capacity of a 10-year-old, but he sure seems to disregard the likely future consequences of his plan. It might seem like cutting $6 trillion would be a good thing for the debt and economy, but I’m not so sure it is; at least the way he is proposing to do it. I think his healthcare plan as it stands would bankrupt Americans in lieu of the government in the short-term (higher insurance costs, more sickness and poverty, etc.), then bankrupt the government trying to deal with the fallout in the long-term (forced increase in subsidies, social spending, etc.).
It’s a kamikaze proposal that is singularly focused on one thing – bringing down the deficit – to the detriment of almost everything else; but surprisingly, I’m going to say that it is a good start. There are some good things in this proposal, and we should build on those things. Someone had to put something drastic on the table to get things started, and I’m glad that Rep. Ryan did. We’ll see what, if anything, happens with it in the months to come. Let me know what you all think of it.