Kevin Ferris: Paul Ryan’s map deserves a look

2011-01-07T01:00:00Z Kevin Ferris: Paul Ryan’s map deserves a lookBy Kevin Ferris | The Philadelphia Inquirer La Crosse Tribune

Get used to hearing the term “road map” in 2011. It comes courtesy of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., one of the GOP’s best and brightest in matters of fiscal discipline and pro-growth economic policies.

With his comprehensive Road Map for America’s Future, Ryan aims to eliminate the short-term deficits and pay off long-term debts, make entitlements and health care both affordable and sustainable, and promote taxes and budgets that encourage economic expansion. Here are some highlights:

Medicare. For those 55 and older, there would be no change. But recognizing that such benefits are not possible long-term, Ryan would provide vouchers for retirees that allows them to buy a Medicare-certified plan. Payments would be adjusted for inflation and the individual’s economic and medical needs. The plan also would help low-income beneficiaries set up and pay for tax-free medical savings accounts. To avoid bankrupting states, Medicaid would also undergo serious changes.

Health care reform. If you’ve wondered what comes after ObamaCare’s repeal, think costs that actually go down, universal coverage, free markets, tax credits, price transparency, portability of plans, state-based high risk pools, and more.

Social Security. Again, if you’re 55 or older, no change. Others could voluntarily invest about one-third of their Social Security taxes into a personal retirement account. The amounts invested would be guaranteed and the accounts could be passed onto the investor’s survivors. The accounts and options would be overseen by Social Security, similar to plans available to federal employees and members of Congress.

Tax reform. There would be two rates, 10 percent up to $100,000 for joint filers and $50,000 for singles. For higher incomes, the rate would be 25 percent. There’s a standard deduction (up to $39,000 for a family of four) and a health-care tax credit but otherwise no other loopholes or credits. There would be no alternative minimum tax, and no taxes on interest, capital gains, or dividends. And no death tax. The corporate income tax would be replaced with a business consumption tax of 8.5 percent.

The plan was first introduced in 2008, but if it was noticed at all by the Democrats and their supporters, it was attacked. Ryan, too. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reached deep into her side’s bag of scare tactics and declared the plan “ends Medicare as we know it” — never mind that Medicare is toast if left as is. Columnist Paul Krugman labeled Ryan a “fraud” and “flimflam man.”

Mostly the plan was ignored. Understandably. Why draw attention to fiscal responsibility while running up record deficits and claiming the GOP has no ideas?

Now, however, Ryan and the road map will be gaining the attention they deserve, for three reasons.

First, Ryan, a smart, affable young congressman who ably took on President Barack Obama at February’s health care summit, is about to become chairman of the House budget committee. Yep, the guy who has been saying over and over in the past year that Washington’s problem is spending, not revenue, will oversee the drafting of the next federal budget. Expect to see some ideas from the road map included.

Second, what sounded radical in 2008 is now almost mainstream.

The president’s deficit reduction commission, which included Ryan, adopted the roadmap’s comprehensive approach to deficits, budgeting, entitlements and tax reform. The commission didn’t take all his ideas — in fact Ryan voted against the panel’s final report because it didn’t go far enough in addressing Medicare and health care reform.

Finally, here’s reason No. 3 why Americans will give Ryan and his road map a fair hearing in 2011: The Democrats got nothing. They’ve been all about binge spending and record deficits in the four years they’ve run Congress.

Even if Americans don’t agree with every twist and turn in the road map, they will find it and its author smart, serious and credible.

Kevin Ferris can be reached at

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