FI$CYs Generate Some Discussion...

As a member of the awards committee for the Fiscys, we have been taking some hits (see Krugman here, Ezra Klein here, and Grep Ip here) for presenting one of the awards to the new Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan. (The other two went to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN).) We proudly stand by the choice.

As Maya MacGuineas said in her remarks at the ceremony, the awards were given to outstanding public servants who: got specific, worked in a bipartisan way, and/or took action in fiscal year 2010. Congressman Ryan not only fell in the first category of getting specific, he basically owned it.

Until this current fiscal year, Ryan’s Roadmap was the only serious proposal by any sitting member of Congress to address any of the nation’s fiscal problems. To be sure, the detailed budget reform plan has its weaknesses—primarily, failing to control the debt in the medium term. (Our analysis.) But it is a serious proposal for restructuring entitlements in the long term. And, it was a serious proposal in what was at the time an otherwise empty field.

Since then of course, many other plans have been produced including the Fiscal Commission’s. Yes, Ryan’s failure to support this plan, and the recent rules changes in the House—many of which are useful for controlling spending, but many of which are a major step backwards by giving tax cuts a fiscally dangerous free pass—make him an unlikely candidate for a Fiscy this year…so far. (We look forward to what will hopefully be a responsible budget from his Committee.)

The good news is that this year it looks like it will be a more crowded field of potential recipients. Senators Coburn, Crapo, Durbin, and Conrad, with their work on the Fiscal Commission, all come to mind.

But without Rep. Ryan’s leading the way in getting specific, and putting serious policy reforms on the table--such as reforming the health exclusion, raising the retirement age, slowing the growth of Social Security benefits, and restructuring Medicare--we might still be talking about only soft and fuzzy policy changes that were so small, they were basically meaningless. Could we really have taken another year of just hearing about earmarks and the tax gap?

So thank you, Paul Ryan, for getting specific in fiscal year 2010. This year, working in a bipartisan way to enact changes will be the test of leadership. We look forward to supporting all the members of Congress who do this, and so far, the fiscal year looks to be off to an important and hopeful start in that regard. See you next year at the Fiscys.