Red Alert

By Ryan, Paul | Newsweek, March 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Red Alert


Ryan, Paul, Newsweek


Byline: Paul Ryan

As Obama's national-debt panel prepares for deliberations, one congressman proposes how to get back in the black.

Imagine your family's finances if you spent and borrowed like Washington: you'd owe $60 in credit-card loans for every $100 of income. Every month you'd pay back a little but borrow even more. In 10 years, you'd owe $87 for every $100 you made. At some point you'd hand off the debt to your kids. If they worked until 2035, they'd owe more than $180 for every $100 they earned. In 2050, your grandkids would owe more than $320. By 2080 they'd owe seven times their earnings. Of course, lenders would cut them off well before then, and your family would be ruined. But this is the path your government is on right now.

Today, our country faces a fiscal meltdown--and Washington's continued cowardice is a big part of the problem. The social-insurance strategies of the 20th century--Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--are driving our federal government and economy to collapse. It's long been obvious that we're ill prepared for the retirement of the baby boomers. Now, the recession and Washington's recent spending spree have accelerated the day of reckoning.

Consider just one program: Medicare. Today, this program is short $38 trillion of what it promises to provide your parents, you, and your kids. In five years, the hole will grow to $52 trillion. Your family's share: $458,000. Medicaid will add trillions more in state and federal debt.

Social Security's surplus is already gone, and its debt is mounting. Without shoring up its finances, the government will be forced to cut benefits nearly 25 percent or raise payroll taxes more than 30 percent.

Both Republicans and Democrats share the blame for failing to be candid about the difficult choices we face and for continuing to make promises that cannot be kept. Some apparently have no sense of shame about shaking a tin cup at China and Japan.

I've put forward a specific solution to meet this challenge, a plan the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says can achieve its goals of paying off government debt in the long run--while securing the social safety net and making possible future economic growth. I call it "A Roadmap for America's Future." If followed, this is what will happen:

HEALTH CARE

You, not your government or your boss, should own your health plan. The Roadmap replaces a tax break that benefits only those with job-based health insurance with tax credits that benefit every American. It addresses the key drivers of rising health-care costs, securing universal access to quality, affordable health coverage.

MEDICARE

Everyone 55 and over will remain in the current program. For those now under 55, the Roadmap turns Medicare into a health-care program like the one enjoyed by members of Congress. Future seniors will receive a voucher and will be able to choose from a list of Medicare-certified insurance plans that best suit their needs. The government subsidy will provide additional support for those with lower incomes and higher health costs. …

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