Many of us would have liked David Cameron and George Osborne to have set out their deficit reduction strategy in more (if not full) detail before the last General Election. My belief was that the country was ready for candour and would have voted for truth telling. Cameron and Osborne decided that it wouldn't. They set out a few cost saving measures at the 2009 Tory Conference but then backed away from the austerity language and from any further specifics. I say the resulting fear of the unknown was one of the reasons why they failed to win a majority. It made the electorable susceptible to Brown's scare stories. Cameron and Osborne would say that fear of the cuts they did set out was one of the reasons why they fell short.
You don't get perfect experiments in politics but the Let's-Be-Candid-School may be about to be lab tested on the other side of the Atlantic.
Yesterday, Paul Ryan, a Republican Congressman and Chairman of the Budget Committee of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, set out what he called The Path To Prosperity. He did so in this brilliant video. His Plan is a seventy page document that sets out to reform America's tax system, control the country's rapidly ballooning entitlement programmes and, over ten years, cuts $6.2 trillion from President Obama's budget plan.
The editors of National Review called it "the most ambitious conservative initiative since — well, actually, since ever." Peter Wehner concluded that Ryan (and Christie) had restored the GOP as the party of ideas.
My colleague at ConservativeHomeUSA, Ryan Streeter, urged people to see the plan as "a 21st century government modernization effort" rather than, simply, as a budget plan. He listed its main components:
- Spending cut to below 2008 levels;
- Reform of agricultural subsidies;
- Devolution of control of Medicaid, job programmes and food stamps to individual states;
- Medicare will be protected as currently configured for those aged 55 and over but future retirees will have to join other plans that will be taxpayer-supported but not by 100%;
- New controls on spending including enforceable caps; and
- Tax reform, including elimination of deductions and loopholes to finance lower overall rates.
Back to where I started in this blog. The Ryan plan is a massive gamble. According to a WSJ/NBC poll the size of the deficit is the number two issue for voters. The number one issue is jobs and growth – goals which Congressman Ryan was careful to put at the heart of his Plan. But the broad support for deficit reduction falls away when Americans are asked about specifics. Only 18% of people support cuts to Medicaid according to the same WSJ/NBC poll.
Ryan would say that the greater gamble is for America to carry on the Obama course, piling up debts and promising unaffordable benefits to its senior citizens.
Time will tell if the Republican candidates for the White House side with Ryan or distance themselves from him. If the nominee is a Ryan-ite we might get something of an answer to the question about the pre-election caution of Britain's Conservatives.