WASHINGTON – Rep. Paul Ryan’s bid to break an increasingly bitter stalemate that resulted in the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government appears to have landed with a thud with some fellow conservatives.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and Republican nominee for vice president in 2012 proposed that the warring factions settle their differences by engaging in a discussion over entitlement and tax reform. That, he hinted, could provide an escape route toward adopting a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution and raising the debt limit.
Ryan said the current situation “doesn’t have to be another crisis.”
“It could be a breakthrough,” he said. “We have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking, and talking specifics, now. To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.”
Negotiators, he suggested, could also take another look at the spending limits imposed under the Budget Control Act of 2011 commonly known as the sequester, a package President Obama and his fellow Democrats are looking to change.
“If Mr. Obama decides to talk, he’ll find that we actually agree on some things,” Ryan wrote. “For example, most of us agree that gradual, structural reforms are better than sudden, arbitrary cuts. For my Democratic colleagues, the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act are a major concern. And the truth is, there’s a better way to cut spending. We could provide relief from the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act in exchange for structural reforms to entitlement programs.”
Even if the White House accepts his terms – a highly unlikely proposition – Ryan likely won’t experience much success with his own party, not so much because of what the plan calls for but for what it doesn’t include – defunding Obamacare, the healthcare law that requires all Americans to retain health insurance.
The Ryan package fails to mention what has been the primary reason behind the current standoff – the GOP’s desire to defund the Affordable Care Act or, at least, postpone its implementation for a year. In order to achieve that goal, a substantial number of Republican lawmakers have exhibited a willingness to shut down vital governmental functions until Democrats acquiesce. They also are threatening to block congressional approval of an increase in the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling. Failure to act on that proposal by Oct. 17 could result in the U.S. defaulting on at least some of its obligations.
Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action, a sister organization to the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, told reporters that “this is a fight about ObamaCare” and that the attention of Republicans and conservatives “needs to be back on ObamaCare and not on other ways out of this situation.”
Needham rejected the idea of a so-called “grand bargain” to fix the economy – an effort that has failed in the past.
“Washington has a notoriously short attention span,” he said. “The reason the federal government is shut down is because President Obama and his allies continue to protect a failed law that is hurting the country. Their reckless behavior should not breathe life into misguided dreams for a grand bargain, which everyone understands is Washington-speak for undermining the sequester, increasing taxes and accumulating debt. Congress should ensure not another dime of taxpayer money is spent on Obamacare.”
Needham was far from alone in his assessment among conservatives. Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, said “it is the president’s failed healthcare law that needs to be dealt with in Congress.”
“Not once did Mr. Ryan mention the program that is hurting hard-working Americans,” she said. “We must remember the reason we are fighting and remain united in our opposition to Obamacare. To quote President Lincoln, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ This stalemate will end when Democrats in the Senate agree to do their duty and negotiate.”
Amanda Carpenter, the senior communications advisor to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is leading the fight in the upper chamber to kill Obamacare, tweeted, “There is one big word missing from this op-ed. It’s (sic) starts with an O and ends with BAMACARE.”
Appearing as a guest on a nationally syndicated radio program hosted by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, Ryan said he didn’t specifically cite Obamacare in his WSJ op-ed because he views it as a part of his call for entitlement reform.
“Obamacare’s an entitlement just like any other entitlement,” Ryan said. “So that, as far as we’re concerned, is in this conversation, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, those are the big drivers of our debt. If you look in the op-ed, I say we have to — ultimately we have to rethink all of our nation’s healthcare laws.”
Regardless, Ryan added that he doubts “within the next two weeks we have a viable strategy for actually repealing Obamacare, every piece of it.”
In the op-ed, Ryan mentioned several areas ripe for bipartisan agreement that could eventually lead to an end to the shutdown and an increase in the nation’s borrowing authority. Wealthy recipients can be required to pay higher premiums for Medicare, a program facing tight financial straits. Medigap plans, he said, could be changed to make them more efficient and reduce costs. Federal workers could be asked to increase their contributions to their retirement plans.
All of these ideas, Ryan noted, have drawn Obama’s support in the past.
The big issue could be tax reform – an issue that often caries a different meaning for Democrats and Republicans, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have been working together behind the scenes to simplify the U.S. tax code on a revenue neutral basis, including a provision to reduce a business tax considered the world’s highest.
The two lawmakers are aiming to release a package before the end of the year. Obama already has expressed support for lowering the business tax.