With Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, the entire presidential campaign will — or should — boil down to this exchange between Ryan and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner during a House hearing on President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget back in February (text of transcript courtesy of Real Clear Politics):
Ryan: Here’s the point. Leaders are supposed to fix problems. We have a $99.4 trillion unfunded liability. Our government is making promises to Americans that it has no way of accounting for them. And so you’re saying yeah, we’re stabilizing it but we’re not fixing it in the long run. That means we’re just going to keep lying to people. We’re going to keep all these empty promises going.
And so what we’re saying is, in order to avert a debt crisis — you’re the Treasury Secretary — if we can’t make good on our bonds in the future, who is going to invest in our country? We do not want to have a debt crisis. And so it comes down to confidence and trajectory. Do we have confidence that we’re getting our fiscal situation under control, that we’re preventing the debt from getting at these catastrophic levels?
If we go back to the preceding chart, number 13, you’re showing that you have no plan to get this debt under control. You’re saying we’ll stabilize it but then it’s just going to shoot back up. So my argument is, that’s Europe. That is bringing us toward a European debt crisis because we’re showing the world, the credit market’s future seniors — people who are organizing their lives around the promises that are being made to them today — that we don’t have a plan to make good on this.
Geithner: Mr. Chairman, as I said, maybe we’re not disagreeing in a sense. I made it absolutely clear that what our budget does is get our deficit down to a sustainable path over the budget window.
Ryan: And then they take back off.
Geithner: Why do they take off again? Why do they do that?
Ryan: Because we have 10,000 people retiring everyday and health-care costs going up.
Geithner: That’s right. We have millions of Americans retiring everyday, and that will drive substantial further rise in the growth of health-care costs. We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.
Read that last part again: “We’re not coming before you to day we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
In other words, we prefer Nero-esque fiddling to your plan.
In other words, we’d rather stick to promises that can’t be kept than level with the American people and treat them like adults.
When Geithner admits the Obama administration has no “definitive solution,” what he really means is the Obama administration has no solution, no proposal, no plan, at least nothing it wants to talk about publicly, for keeping our fiscal condition from spiraling completely out of control. That’s no exaggeration: Check out the chart to which Ryan referred, which comes from the Obama administration’s own FY13 budget:
See, the most Barack Obama is willing to do — in his fourth, count ‘em, fourth budget proposal — is to “stabilize” our debt at the highest level, as a share of the economy, since the end of World War II. In fact, according to his budget, that’s the most Americans can expect for the two presidential terms that would follow his hypothetical second term.
After that, he ostensibly would be willing to let us zoom into the abyss on auto-pilot than propose any sort of meaningful reform to the programs that put us on this path. That’s chiefly Medicare — although, as an Associated Press report notes, we face a shortfall of Social Security funding totaling $134 trillion during the next 75 years, i.e. the period of time that covers the retirement of “just about everyone working today.” To shore that up, AP reports, the federal government would need to “invest $8.6 trillion today, and have it pay returns of 2.9 percent above inflation for the next 75 years, to produce enough money to cover the shortfall.”
We will soon find out if the Obama team has prepared substantive proposals for these issues or was simply betting/hoping Romney wouldn’t have the guts to thrust Ryan — and thus the entitlements question — into this campaign.
– By Kyle Wingfield