Paul Ryan: Obama Can Use Stalemate to Reform Tax Code, Entitlements

Image: Paul Ryan: Obama Can Use Stalemate to Reform Tax Code, Entitlements

Wednesday, 09 Oct 2013 06:32 AM

By Elliot Jager

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A way out of the deadlock between the White House and Congress that emphasizes common ground was offered Tuesday by Rep. Paul Ryan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Barack Obama can turn the current crisis into a breakthrough opportunity by agreeing to structural reforms of the country's entitlement programs and tax code, Ryan writes.

Democrats and Republicans can agree on ways to "provide relief from the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act," an issue that most concerns Democrats, in exchange for structural reforms to entitlement programs sought by Republicans.

Both camps already agree that sudden, arbitrary cuts are undesirable, Ryan writes.

Ryan offered several ideas to jumpstart negotiations. "We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and reduce costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement" — all ideas that Obama has embraced, Ryan points out.

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, notes that Rep. Dave Camp, R., Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D., Mont., have been cooperating on a bipartisan plan to reform the tax code. Their collaboration is rooted in agreement that the tax base must be broadened, rates lowered and the code simplified. These, too, are ideas which the president supports, Ryan writes.

The House Budget Committee chairman is not proposing a grand bargain. "For that, we need a complete rethinking of government's approach to helping the most vulnerable, and a complete rethinking of government's approach to health care."

For now he writes, "We need to find common ground. We need to open the federal government. We need to pay our bills today – and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow."

The truth, writes Ryan, is that many presidents have negotiated on the debt ceiling. Ronald Reagan signed a debt-ceiling deal with congressional Democrats in 1985. In 1997, Bill Clinton reached an arrangement with congressional Republicans to raise the debt ceiling.

And Obama himself, two years ago, signed the Budget Control Act which traded spending cuts for a debt-ceiling hike.

"If we don't make the tough decisions now," Ryan writes "we'll face only tougher decisions later. We can work together. We can do some good. All it takes is leadership – and for the president to come to the table."

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