Stephanie's Political Arena

Critiques and Perspectives on National Politics and More

Posts Tagged ‘Congressman Paul Ryan

A Budget Balancing Act

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Having fully recovered from those “Super Bowl-sized” hangovers (way to go Packers!) and the additional nausea stemming from a horrible half-time show, tax-paying Americans are now gearing up for another fun-filled tax season… while Uncle Sam continues to struggle with paying the bills… as well as most of those same tax-paying Americans…  It’s actually possible that nausea just returned…

As the economy remains relatively weak with limited growth potential under the current debt burdens, President Obama introduced his 2012 Budget this week.  “Built around the simple idea that we have to live within our means so we can invest in the future,” the document calls for more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction intended to shrink the current deficit down to 3 percent of the economy by the middle of the decade.  It also includes a five-year, non-security spending freeze intended to reduce the deficit by another $400 billion and seeks to cut $78 billion from the Pentagon’s budget, among many more proposed measures, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

For the moment, I’m going to let the family military blood boil through in expressing how insane it would be to propose such a large cut, or any kind of cut for that matter, in defense spending – especially given the events taking place in nations such as Egypt and the potential domino effect on other regions around the world.  It had been argued that if things grew completely out of control in Egypt, the U.S. would be limited in offering additional support given how “over-stretched” our military is already with ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet, severe cuts are proposed for this critical portion of the federal budget.  We also cannot forget about the ongoing threat posed by “leaders” such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il for which our military must be prepared to confront.  There’s no question that “times are tough” economically and fiscally for the U.S., but they also remain uncertain and even volatile on the international stage.  In this kind of environment, we cannot afford any weaknesses within our national security.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) created a user-friendly multimedia chart to help better understand the make-up of the federal budget.  As noted within the OMB chart, the federally-funded health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, children’s health insurance, and health research account for 22.62 percent of the budget, followed closely by Social Security at 20.04 percent of the budget.  Rounding out the top three spending priorities is National Defense, which is 19.27 percent of the budget. 

Additional details into the blueprint of the President’s budget are provided by OMB within an overview summary that places particular emphasis on education and innovation; and limited information on how to reform the largest portion of the budget: entitlement spending in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Having worked in the public sector for several years, one of the biggest issues that always arises with the latter two programs is the cost-shifting.  Because of the low reimbursements provided to physicians for their services, hospitals are forced to shift the outstanding balances owed by patients on Medicare and Medicaid to patients who are not enrolled in these programs; thus, increasing the cost of their healthcare.

Not only for the sake of addressing healthcare costs, but for the sake of restoring our nation’s fiscal health, Congressman Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, told Mike Allen of Politico, “The drivers of our debt are the entitlement programs… and the sooner we act to reform and save these programs, the better off everybody’s going to be.”  He went on to criticize President Obama’s budget in stating that it “accelerates our debt crisis” and will ultimately lead to “European-style kinds of rescue operations [including] painful cuts to seniors and tax increases,” alluding to the financial dilemmas that have plagued countries such as Ireland and Greece over the past year.  Congressman Ryan indicated the Budget Committee will produce an alternative to President Obama’s budget sometime in April.

In the meantime, the Congressional Budget Office has a number of related documents summarizing the economic forecast beyond the 2012 federal budget.  This includes a budget table consisting of projected deficits and surpluses through 2021 based on the current 2012 budget draft introduced by President Obama, which has the U.S. heading toward a $7 trillion deficit by 2021…

Graphic from aneconomyofmeaning.wordpress.com

Flat-lined State of the Union Address Reflective of Flat-lined Economy

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“The challenges we face are bigger than party.  They’re bigger than politics,” President Barack Obama stated in his opening remarks of his third State of the Union address, emphasizing the lessons taken from the tragic shooting that took place in Tucson and applying them to a more bipartisan approach in confronting global economic challenges. 

Throughout the duration of his lackluster speech, President Obama stressed the need to “out-innovate and out-educate” the rest of the world in “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”  He highlighted his goal of ensuring that 80 percent of America’s electricity comes from “clean energy” sources by 2035 through greater advancements in research and technology funded by penalties against oil companies.  He also outlined his plan to replace No Child Left Behind with his Race to the Top initiative in holding school teachers more accountable; elaborated on the competition we’re facing from countries such as India, China and South Korea, particularly in areas such as technology and education; and briefly mentioned the “need to take on illegal immigration” while hinting at his support of the Dream Act.

Perhaps the most interesting excerpts of his speech, in my opinion, were those that focused on the need to address “our mountain of debt” and to reduce our deficit by “cutting excessive spending.” In addressing these matters, he proposed a five-year domestic spending freeze and asking “millionaires to give up their tax cuts.”  As he put it, “It’s not about punishing success, it’s about promoting success.”  Yet, I can’t resist asking how revoking tax cuts from those who are most likely job-creators will “promote success” in the long run when such a proposal could hamstring a “millionaire” business owner from growing his company and hiring more workers – and “promoting success” among the newly-hired employees…  You can either spend, say, $5 million worth of tax cuts on unemployment compensation or just give it to a business and enable it to use that money in providing paychecks and benefits to formerly unemployed employees.

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin delivered the Republican rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address, and he focused almost exclusively on the federal budget deficit and current spending levels.  He argued that instead of “restoring the fundamentals of economic growth,” the president went on a “spending spree” by increasing federal spending by 84 percent when factoring in the $787 billion stimulus package.  Congressman Ryan also pointed out that the president added another $3 trillion to the federal deficit, particularly through the creation of a “healthcare entitlement.”  If the current levels of spending and borrowing remain unchecked, he indicated that America’s “day of reckoning” will come as it already has to places such as Greece and Ireland – two nations on the verge of a catastrophic economic meltdown as a result of excessive spending on entitlement programs.

In spite of their disagreement over the best policy options, both leaders recognized that the U.S. is facing a serious “fiscal crisis” that requires an immediate, bipartisan solution.  Yet, while President Obama painted a rather optimistic, yet unrealistic, picture illustrating his vision for “winning the future” in America, Congressman Ryan delivered the harsh, realistic truth: America is on the verge of collapse if we don’t get our spending – particularly on entitlement programs – under control.  It’s a monumental challenge that’s “above politics” despite the partisan rhetoric of today’s New York Times editorial pages and the mixed reviews published in The Washington Post.  I must commend Robert Samuelson on his well-written piece, “How Obama’s speech muddied the budget debate,” in which he declares that we won’t “win the future… by deluding ourselves.”  I’m sure Greece and Ireland can attest to that.

Written by Stephanie

January 27, 2011 at 1:44 am

Finally ending the hiatus!

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Wow!  Who knew how fast nearly eight months could go by?!  I offer my sincerest apologies to the dedicated readers of this blog who have been missing my quirky insight on the latest news in politics and public affairs.  I took the fall semester off from graduate school in order to focus on the midterm elections and then present a study I was a part of at a national public opinion conference.

I’ve since returned to the office and the classroom for two more semesters of study before completing my M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications.  Conveniently timed with the beginning of the spring semester is the State of the Union Address to be delivered by President Barack Obama this Tuesday.  Today’s Wisconsin State Journal devoted an entire page of its newsprint edition to the upcoming speech, which is predicted to focus on the economy and civility in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona: “Expect the economy to serve as the major focus of the speech, both short-term job creation and his plans for long-term stability, with a secondary theme being a call for civility and compromise.”

The primary theme of the 2010 midterm elections, the economy played a significant factor in voters’ decision-making at the polls and delivering majority control over the U.S. House of Representatives to Republicans.  As of December 2010, the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Additionally, President Obama is confronted with the challenge his ideology poses to independent voters who supported him two years ago, but who recently ousted a number of his Congressional allies.  As Brit Hume of Fox News said on Fox News Sunday, the President can’t appear as a “lefty” during the State of the Union Address.  Essentially, President Obama needs to demonstrate a readiness to work with the traditionally pro-business Republicans in crafting the policies needed to re-energize the nation’s business community and foster the economic growth needed to get jobless Americans back to work.

Whether or not the President’s message will be enough to convince Republicans that he’s willing to work with them will be determined by Wisconsin’s Congressman Paul Ryan, who was selected to deliver the rebuttal to the State of the Union Address.  The new Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Ryan will undoubtedly be on alert for perceived excessive appropriations amid a $371 billion budget deficit proposed by the President during his address.  He’ll also be speaking on behalf of his freshman colleagues, most, if not all, of whom won their seats on a “fiscal responsibility” campaign platform.

It will be interesting to see if and how President Obama tailors his message this week to appeal to the Republican-controlled House and the voters he must work to bring back on his side in time for November 2012.

Written by Stephanie

January 24, 2011 at 2:28 am