Paul Ryan may be the rising star of the Republican Party – chairman of the House Budget Committee and responder to the State of the Union, but on Thursday, he was just guy dressed in snow boots and a sweater looking to discuss the economy, the budget, the national debt and even the uprising in Egypt.
Appearing before a full house at Marquette University Law School Eckstein Hall, Ryan took questions from Mike Gousha and audience members.
Ryan said the unrest in Egypt has put President Obama between a rock and a hard place.
“He has to decide if we will dump our allies or promote democracy,” Ryan said. “The problem has been that administrations have pushed Mubarak (for democratic reforms), but he didn’t do it and now he is reaping what he has sowed. And as for US Aid, our dollars should only be used to promote democracy.”
What amazes Ryan is how the seed of dissent has spread from a street vendor in Tunisia who immolated himself to the downfall of parliaments and cabinets in Jordan, Yemen and Egypt.
“It shows the people want to be free,” he added.
Moving back to domestic issues, Ryan was proud to announce his first action as budget chairman, a $74 billion cut in spending in the current fiscal year: $58 billion in cuts that will return non-security discretionary spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout, 2008 levels and $16 billion will come from military spending cuts suggested by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
“Everything needs to be on the table,” he said, even as federal spending still tops $3 trillion for 2011.
And while he is turning back the clock on the stimulus, Ryan doesn’t regret voting for the Wall Street bailout because he believed without it there could have been a banking crash of Great Depression proportions.
“I was concerned about increased debt costs to businesses, which would have put them underwater and led to large waves of bankruptcies,” he said. “Even though TARP was abused and the stimulus became a slush fund, if the bailout failed to pass it could have caused a panic.”
But that was in the past and now Ryan wants to focus on creating a budget for the remainder of 2011 and next year.
Ryan said the American people are ready for an adult conversation on the budget and spending.
“We need to take this opportunity to get the country back on track,” Ryan said. “And it is not too late to fix. The Roadmap proves we can fix the problems with entitlements, the debt.”
He explained there are $88.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The Roadmap for America’s Future would solve that by keeping benefits at the promised levels for those 55 or older and offering options to Gen Xers and younger.
“We should convert Medicare and Medicaid into the Congressional plan, with subsidies for lower income and sicker recipients,” he said. “As for Social Security, the wealthy should receive less benefits and we need to raise the retirement age. But it won’t even get to 70 until 2103!”
Ryan added that the problem and fallacy of Social Security is the diminishing rate of return, noting that 40-somethings might get a 1 percent return on their investment in the program but his and our children will see a negative one percent return if nothing is done.
“I propose we give one-third of the payroll tax to the workers to put into a Social Security managed plan, again similar to what Congress has.”
As for the debt and criticisms that his Roadmap won’t erase it until 2063, he blames the enormity of the structural deficit and the grandfathering of programs as drawing out the time frame. He added that doing nothing and stalling reforms has been increasing the debt by $10 trillion each year since 2009.
“I believe in the unconstitutionality of Health Care Reform,” he said. He added that if the commerce act is allowed to regulate inaction (if you don’t purchase insurance, you’ll be fined) then all limits are off government.
Ryan added that the law in place is lacking severability, explaining that in the Senate’s rush to put something together on Christmas Eve 2009 they forgot to put in the severability clause. That clause allows for a portion of a law to be declared unconstitutional without wiping out the entire law; without the clause, ruling on part of the law unconstitutional could put the whole bill in jeopardy.
Instead Ryan wants to repeal and repair, keeping some of the act’s provisions such as allowing children to stay on their parents insurance until age 26. A Marquette student who suffers from epilepsy asked what would happen to him when he turns 27, loses coverage and faces $3,000 monthly medication bills.
Ryan suggested developing high-risk pools which would be subsidized to lower the high cost to high risk or pre-existing patients.
“This would keep the premiums stable and stop people from going bankrupt. This would help the 8 percent of high-risk patients and also hold costs down for the remaining 92 percent.”
And for the big questions – Is Ryan considering a run against Sen. Herb Kohl or even running for president in the future? He answered in a humorous, humble Wisconsin manner explaining being a good husband and father are more important than spending years locked in the White House away from weekend soccer games and swims at the Y.
“My head is not that big and my children are too small. I am not running for president. I have one job and it is to write a budget.”