Opinion

Will Paul Ryan Exit Stage Right?

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Posted: May 09, 2018 12:01 AM
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Will Paul Ryan Exit Stage Right?

The congressman, then only 38 years old, was the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee -- and understood the fiscal crisis this nation was heading toward better than anyone.

"If our country, if the federal government of the United States, stays on the fiscal path it is currently following, is the government going to go bankrupt down the road?" this writer asked in a 2008 interview.

"Yes," said Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

He did not hesitate or equivocate.

"We know that for a fact," he said. "All the actuaries, all the objective score-keepers of the federal government are predicting this. So, this much we know. What we know is our government is growing at an unsustainable pace and it will overwhelm our economy's ability to pay the bills."

Ryan saw a collision coming between American demographics -- with the impending retirement of the baby boom generation -- and federal entitlement programs.

"What is happening is that these three entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- are going to basically crowd out the rest of the federal budget," he said in that interview 10 years ago.

Ryan likened the fiscal challenge the nation would face in this century to some of the historical challenges it faced in the last.

"The legacy of this country has always been that each generation confronts the challenges before it so that the next generation is better off," he said.

"In the past, we brought down the Iron Curtain and won the Cold War," he said. "We got through World War I. We got through World War II. We won the war and the Great Depression. The problem we have right now -- putting foreign policy aside and our fight with Islamic radicalism -- we have an economic crisis. We have a fiscal crisis. And that is we will bankrupt this country and the best century in America will be the last century.

"Unless we turn our fiscal situation around, and pay off this debt, and change the way these programs work to a more sustainable path, the next generation will have inferior living standards," he said. "We will not have higher living standards for our children and our grandchildren, if we continue down the current path we are on."

Ryan anticipated then -- in 2008 -- that the crisis would begin to crystallize in about 10 years.

"In about ten years, these programs go insolvent, meaning they are not taking enough money in to pay off benefits and they start running permanent cash deficits. I'm particularly talking about Social Security and Medicare," he said.

"But also in ten years, that is when the baby boomers really start retiring."

When Ryan spoke those words in August 2008, the labor force participation rate was 66.1 percent and there were 79,466,000 people not in the labor force. Since then, labor force participation has dropped to 62.8 percent and the number not in the labor force has climbed to 95,745,000.

Back then, there were 50,497,369 Social Security beneficiaries. Today, there are 62,233,678.

Back then, the federal debt was almost $9.6 trillion. Now, it is more than $21 trillion.

Back then, in fiscal 2008, the federal government spent about $3.4 trillion (in 2018 dollars) and ran a deficit of about $523 billion (in 2018 dollars). This fiscal year, the Treasury estimates it will spend about $4.17 trillion and run a deficit of $832.6 billion.

In its most recent financial statement for the U.S. government, published in February, the Government Accountability Office warned that "the current federal fiscal path is unsustainable."

The Congressional Budget Office warned in its latest budget outlook that increasing federal debt could lead to a "fiscal crisis."

"Such high and rising debt," CBO said, "would have serious negative consequences for the budget and the nation: The likelihood of a fiscal crisis in the United States would increase. There would be a greater risk that investors would become unwilling to finance the government's borrowing unless they were compensated with very high interest rates; if that happened, interest rates on federal debt would rise suddenly and sharply."

This year, Paul Ryan is not the ranking member of the Budget Committee; he is the departing speaker of the House.

In its last omnibus spending law, the House Ryan leads did not defund Planned Parenthood or research that uses human fetal tissue.

But the House must pass new spending laws before Oct.1. They may be the last on Ryan's watch.

He should take the opportunity to make a stand for what is right and fight -- even if Democrats choose to shut down the government -- to put America back on the right path.