Since Rep. Paul Ryan is going to deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, Derek Thompson put up a nice post contrasting the differences between the visions of the two men. It’s a nice balanced analysis which is worth your time. The last paragraph, however, is a poignant example of what gets lost in much of the discussion about the competing points of view.
Paul Ryan isn’t shy about transforming America’s safety net. Liberals have sometimes slammed his plan for attacking the poor, although his plan would increase minimum benefits for the low-income elderly and keep tax rates on the poor near historical lows. But he offers a radically different vision of middle-class welfare. In Social Security, he would cut benefits for most seniors and encourage Americans to transfer into personal retirement accounts. His health care overhaul would have government pay less and consumers pay more. His tax reforms, which eliminate middle-class tax credits and create a new consumption tax, would slightly increase the tax burden on the middle class. To be clear, Ryan’s plan isn’t heartless. But in asking the private sector to take greater responsibility for the economy, he’s also asking the middle class to take fewer benefits from the government.
The key difference between Ryan’s proposals and any others advanced by either Republicans or Democrats is that Ryan speaks to the reality that the middle class will have to pay in one way or the other. Trillion dollar deficits ensure that either taxes have to increase or expenditures decrease for fiscal survival and the only means of raising the funds necessary or reducing the requisite amount of benefits is to take it out of the hide of the middle class. Unfortunately for the political class, that also happens to be where the bulk of votes reside and so they are loathe to speak this truth. Democrats therefore deride the Ryan plan while Republicans choose to ignore it.
So tonight there will be lots of talk about spending restraint and investment in things like infrastructure and education and probably some pious words about reducing the deficit but there is one thing you aren’t going hear. You won’t be told by either side that it’s going to take some shared sacrifice to move the country back to a better place.