The most outrageous claim House Democrats made about the budget they passed last month is that it doesn't raise taxes. Numbers don't lie, and by the numbers in their budget, Democrats would impose the largest tax increase in American history - nearly $400 billion over the next five years.
While they keep denying it, the Democrats' budget relies on higher tax brackets, cutting the child tax credit in half, significantly increasing capital gains and investment taxes, eliminating marriage penalty and death tax relief, and a host of other tax increases.
The Democrats' budget also increases non-defense discretionary spending by $22 billion in FY08 alone, and promises more than $150 billion in additional "reserve fund" spending with no way to pay for it. Because of this immense new spending - coupled with a complete lack of reform - the Democrats' tax hikes are inevitable: without them, their entire budget falls apart.
None of this is surprising. Democrats favor big government. They trust government to make Americans' most important choices for them, from education to health care to scientific research. They believe the economy should follow the dictates of politics, because they don't really trust free markets to produce the "right" kinds of goods in the "right" ways. For Democrats, "fiscal discipline" means balancing the budget at higher levels of spending and taxing, and with an ever-expanding role for government.
Republicans have a fundamentally different view. We believe that individuals, acting freely and responsibly, are the source of our country's moral strength and prosperity. We believe government tends to smother personal initiative, that it hinders more than it helps. We favor limiting government's imposition on individual and economic choices. We believe, as President Reagan said in his first inaugural: "We are a nation that has a government - not the other way around."
For these reasons, our budget - offered as an alternative to the Democrats' plan - gets to balance by curbing Congress's appetite for spending, not by demanding more money from taxpayers. Our policy is to continue supporting strong economic growth - the mainstay of deficit reduction in the past several years - reforming our largest and least sustainable entitlement programs, and demanding better accountability for government spending.
The entitlement reforms are especially important. It is widely known that programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as currently structured, face a fiscal and economic train wreck - and they will fail the very beneficiaries they are intended to serve. Ignoring these facts - as the Democrat budget does - only makes the problem worse.
The reforms in our budget take a major step toward making these programs more responsive and flexible, and better aligned with today's economic realities. They also make entitlements more sustainable - not by "cutting" them, but by slowing their growth, from the currently-projected 5.2 percent, to a slightly more sustainable 4.3 percent over the next 5 years.
These are the main reasons why this year's budget debate matters. The philosophies of Republicans and Democrats, as spelled out in our respective fiscal plans, could not be more distinct: whether we opt for more government, more taxes, and an ever-growing burden on the Nation's economy; or limited government, more freedom, and a more resilient and robust economy. That is the defining nature of this year's budget debate - and it is the clear choice for our nation's future.
U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan is the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, where he works to bring fiscal discipline and accountability to the federal government.
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