House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is looking beyond Friday and the beginning of the sequestration.
In an interview I conducted with him on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Ryan told me he believes a majority of Americans will come to understand how bad the debt is after the rhetoric gives way to reality.
"Mitt (Romney) and I shadowboxed against the theory of big government," he says, "while (President) Obama made all the great promises of what it delivered and used soaring rhetoric to sell it, but that will be different in a second term (when) the results start materializing."
As one example, Ryan mentions the impact of the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- on seniors. He believes that when seniors begin to experience Obamacare's negative effects it will "put us in a much better position not just to say, 'I told you so,' but to show there's a far better way than 15 people on a board appointed by the president making all these decisions that will ration your health care on top of all these ... price controls to providers that will restrict your access."
By the end of next year, Ryan believes, "...you'll see a lot of anxiety in the health care provider community that will damage access to health care for seniors and I think the bloom will come off the Obamacare rose, such as it exists today (with) every additional year of implementation."
Ryan says health care providers are already telling some members of Congress about their "negative margins with Obamacare kicking in" and how the law will either force them to close, or "they're going to stop taking people, or overcharge the private payers who increasingly will dump their employees into the Obamacare program."
"The president said, 'if you like your plan you can keep it,'" Ryan said. "Not true. The president said this was going to improve Medicare. He said health care costs would go down. They've gone up."
Given all this, what will Ryan and the Republicans do when across-the-board spending cuts begin?
"Our job is to buy the country time," he tells me. "That means we need a down payment on the debt and deficits. We need to buy time for the bond markets to push off a debt crisis outside of the four-year window. We then go to the country with a real agenda of specific alternatives to this progressive experiment that's unfolding to win 2016 so we can actually fix this thing before it's too late."
He says he's not worried about polls that show a majority of the country will blame Republicans for the sequester: "Getting actual accomplishments by getting debt and deficits under control, stabilizing our debt to buy the country time so we don't have a debt crisis" will allow Republicans to "go to the country with a crystal clear choice that more clearly juxtapose(s) against the reality of big government under Obama is what we have to shoot for."
Ryan says the House next week will give the president "...some reprogramming authority to be able to direct cuts to lower priority areas from higher priority areas."
What if the Senate doesn't go along? "That's their choice," he says.
Ryan recalls how scare tactics failed in the 1996 debate over welfare reform when liberals lamented cuts to the welfare program that they believed would surely lead to poor children starving in the streets of America. Instead Clinton's welfare-to-work program made it possible for many low-income Americans to get jobs. Ryan calls the current GOP plan "Welfare Reform 2.0" and expects similar positive results by focusing on "improving prosperity, opportunity and individual responsibility."
Democrats have "won a battle, but not the war," Ryan says.
Is he optimistic he will win the war?
"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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