Lawmakers in Washington are quick to talk the talk of fiscal reform these days. Solutions to the nation’s abysmal financial outlook are at the tip of everyone’s tongue, and even Democrats have conceded that maybe conservatives were right when pointing out that the United States doesn’t have a tax problem but rather a major spending problem.
But amidst all this talk, who in Washington is actually willing to walk the walk of actual fiscal reform? Not just hand-wringing. Not just a few symbolic cuts here and raising taxes there, but a complete overhaul that leaves the government on solid financial footing. Real reform, as Niall Ferguson, a Harvard historian and professor, puts it, may sound “pretty radical … but it is an option that we should be discussing much more seriously.”
Bloomberg Businessweek points out that “at least one congressman is doing just that—and learning how lonely it can be crusading for real change.” That congressman is Paul Ryan (R–WI), who released the second version of his Roadmap for America earlier this year, which includes health care reform, entitlement reform, and tax reform.
Bloomberg reports that, “compared with the current fiscal crash-and-burn trajectory, the plan reduces deficits and debt, putting the federal budget on a sustainable path; results in stronger per-capita economic growth; puts Medicare and Social Security on a sound footing; and lowers health-care expenses while reducing the number of uninsured. And that’s not Congressman Ryan talking. That’s the assessment of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which gave the Roadmap a test drive and found that it performed well.”
How does the Roadmap achieve all this? Medicare and Medicaid are transformed into voucher programs, giving beneficiaries the ability to choose their own health insurance and allowing market forces to lower costs. Health care reform would eliminate the current tax exemption for health insurance. This would be replaced with a universal tax credit for families and individuals to apply to the health plan they, not their employer, choose.
The Roadmap targets seniors’ benefits to those who need them most: those with lower incomes and greater health needs. In addition, individuals could choose to invest part of their payroll taxes in savings accounts.
The Roadmap would substantially simplify the current tax code, reducing tax rates and improving incentives for saving and investing to spur economic growth and increase the U.S.’s ability to compete globally.
In an exchange during the health care debate, Representative Louise Slaughter (D–NY) told Ryan that his “plan is to phase out Medicare.” Slaughter had it totally backwards—Medicare, and the other entitlements, are on the road to collapse without reform. The federal government simply cannot fulfill its unfunded promises without going bankrupt and causing an economic meltdown.
The Roadmap offers a solution to this and the other realities of out-of-control government spending. Ferguson says of the Roadmap, “It seems to me actually our best hope.”