Rep. Paul Ryan Floats a Down Payment

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) presents a possible down payment on the debt as a way out of the government shutdown/debt ceiling impasse. The deal would involve entitlement reforms that have some bipartisan support and tax reform.

About the entitlement reforms, he writes:

Here are just a few ideas to get the conversation started. We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and reduce costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.

The president has embraced these ideas in budget proposals he has submitted to Congress. And in earlier talks with congressional Republicans, he has discussed combining Medicare's Part A and Part B, so the program will be less confusing for seniors. These ideas have the support of nonpartisan groups like the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and they would strengthen these critical programs. And all of them would help pay down the debt.

We have already discussed increasing Medicare premiums for high earners as a source of bipartisan health care savings, expanding upon that which has previously been enacted into law by both parties -- in the Medicare Modernization Act and the Affordable Care Act, for example -- and has continued to recieve bipartisan support. The Medicare cost-sharing reforms Ryan offers also have the potential for bipartisan support, as plans from both parties have included variations of similar proposals.

Ryan also calls for tax reform which broadens the tax base and lowers rates. Although he does not explicitly mention raising revenue (or not) from it, a commitment to tax reform could pave the way for more revenue as well.

We should also enact pro-growth reforms that put people back to work—like opening up America's vast energy reserves to development. There is even some agreement on taxes across the aisle.

Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) have been working for more than a year now on a bipartisan plan to reform the tax code. They agree on the fundamental principles: Broaden the base, lower the rates and simplify the code. The president himself has argued for just such an approach to corporate taxes. So we should discuss how Congress can take up the Camp–Baucus plan when it's ready.

Ryan notes in the op-ed that these policies would not be transformative or widespread enough to constitute a "grand bargain" but would represent a good down payment for deficit reduction. It could certainly offer a good start, and he hopes could provide a path to end the impasses that have dominated Washington the past few weeks.