Editor’s note: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) is scheduled to deliver the keynote address Thursday at this year’s Oregon Business Association Statesman Dinner at the Oregon Convention Center. The Oregonian invited Ryan to describe his proposal to tackle the federal budget deficit in advance of his speech. The following is the text Ryan provided.
Like my home state of Wisconsin, Oregon has long exuded a forward-looking spirit of optimism, rooted in our nation’s timeless founding principles. Much like the early settlers of Oregon and Wisconsin, when we survey our nation’s economic landscape we find ourselves at a crossroads, facing a choice of two distinct futures. Unlike our forefathers, though, we have a clear sense of what lies ahead.
Most urgently, unemployment remains unbearably high and economic growth far too low. Policymakers urgently need to advance an agenda for growth – removing the obstacles to job creation and the paralyzing uncertainty from Washington. Both parties contributed to the current hardships – and both parties helped plant the seeds of the crisis on the horizon: a fiscal time bomb from the explosive growth of government debt.
Stacking trillion-dollar deficits year after year, President Barack Obama’s 10-year budget plan will double the debt in five years and triple it in 10. The federal government’s unfunded liabilities – government’s unpaid promises – stand at $76.4 trillion and are set to spiral further out of control each year we kick the can down the road.
The government’s own experts are telling us that our health and retirement security programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – are on a path to bankruptcy unless we take action soon. In addition to overwhelming the entire federal budget, the collapse of these programs will result in painful cuts for seniors and society’s most vulnerable.
Presented with these facts, the choice before us becomes clear. We can stay on our current path, allow unprecedented levels of government spending and higher taxes to crush the economy and shred the social safety net. Or, we can do what past generations of Americans have always done: work together in tackling the nation’s most pressing challenges and leave the next generation with a stronger, safer and more prosperous America.
To overcome our current fiscal challenges, we need a plan – a specific course of action to ensure the government secures the promises made to current and future generations, allow communities and individuals to grow and flourish, and guarantee America’s best days are ahead, and not behind us.
In an effort to spur action on meeting this challenge, I put forward a reform plan back in 2008: "A Roadmap for America’s Future" (www.americanroadmap.org). When I introduced the plan over two years ago, and reintroduced an updated version earlier this year, it was my hope to break through the political paralysis, and advance an open and honest discussion about how our nation can address its fiscal challenges.
Certified by the Congressional Budget Office, my reform plan fulfills the mission of health and retirement security, saving Medicare and Social Security; lifts the crushing burden of debt, paying off the debt completely; and restarts the engine of economic growth and limitless prosperity.
First and foremost, the Roadmap for America’s Future makes no changes to Medicare and Social Security for those 55 and older. Those in and near retirement will receive the benefits that they have been promised – this is a critical component of entitlement reform and a guarantee that we won’t be able to make unless we take action now. For those younger workers, the Roadmap offers gradual, sensible reforms to ensure that future generations have access to these vital programs. My plan offers those 54 and younger the same health and retirement benefit options I enjoy as a member of Congress. The Congressional Budget Office and the programs’ own actuaries have certified that the Roadmap would make Medicare and Social Security permanently solvent, averting the painful cuts from the unsustainable status quo.
Economic growth is a prerequisite to getting a grip on our federal budget. This is why my plan advances bold reforms to our anti-competitive and needlessly complex tax code. The tax reforms are designed to simplify and broaden our nation’s tax base and put the United States in a position to lead, rather than follow, in the global economy. To get our economy growing again, the Roadmap would eliminate our corporate income tax – currently the second highest in the industrial world – and replace it with a business consumption tax, lowering the tax burden to create job opportunities and job growth.
These reforms, coupled with proposed changes to our health care system and our job training programs, show that it is not too late to deal with our economic challenges and do so in a way that preserves the promises government has made and keeps intact the ideas our nation was founded upon: liberty, opportunity and individual initiative.
Our fiscal and economic challenges offer a unique opportunity to restore our nation’s prosperity. On the Oregon Trail or in the harsh Wisconsin winters, settlers did not have the option of kicking the can down the road. Each generation of Americans rose to the occasion – and now it is our generation that must do the same.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District.