Matt Miller - The Archives
A spending goal too small for aging America
The Washington Post, August 19, 2010

Dear Paul Ryan:

In recent days Ryan-mania has reached a wonky fever pitch. Paul Krugman says you're "the flimflam man." The Wall Street Journal's editorial page fired back that your "Roadmap for the Future" features "radical honesty." The Times says you'll be at the center of events if Republicans win big this fall. And The Post even featured you on Page One.

Which is why it's important to be clear that your vaunted plan to get our fiscal house in order, and to restore a culture of self-reliance rather than dependency on government, isn't a "plan" at all—at least not in the way most people think of one. Your road map is a set of assumptions—a kind of rigged forecasting exercise, really—that shows how a certain underlying philosophy could play out fiscally in an aging America.

But it doesn't balance the budget, lower national health costs or assure faster economic growth. It's not fiscally conservative enough for my taste, if anyone in Washington still thinks "fiscally conservative" means advocating that government pay for what it chooses to spend.

Let me say before offering a good-faith critique that I'm someone who has taken lashes from fellow Democrats for proposing to tie initial Social Security benefits to an index based on prices, not wages (too dull to detail, but this means bigger trims in future benefits than you've proposed). I've also urged my party not to demagogue needed reductions in Medicare's growth rates when Republicans propose them. So this is not a pan from a liberal defending the status quo.

Here are my biggest problems with your "plan":
There's more in the road map than one can treat in a single column—and some ideas, such as moving past the employer-based health care system, are dead on—but the points I've raised make your current thinking a nonstarter even to reform-minded Democrats. For now, the Ryan "plan" racks up far too much debt even as it poses a false choice between a return to "rugged individualism" and a slide toward a European-style welfare state—when in fact there's a way to responsibly chart an American-style course that blends liberty, growth and justice in an aging America.