Leehey: Our budgetary choices are not binary

Cameron Leehey

This column is a response to the April 11 letter to the editor, “Our generation’s choice of two futures,” written by the College Republican chairpersons of Iowa State, University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa.

In their letter, the College Republican chairpersons have propounded that Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” is the only alternative the American people have to a lack of economic viability past the year 2038. They characterize this decision as strictly binary: between Ryan’s plan and certain economic failure.

They write, “Fiscal policy should not be a partisan issue,” and then proceed to make the claim that “the Democratic political machine would like to fear-monger you to believe that any substantive reforms will eliminate access to affordable health care.”

Let me begin by saying that there are not just two possible economic plans for the federal government; the number of options approaches infinity, and many of them still result in the net savings offered by the so-called “Path to Prosperity.”

Here are just a few examples: defense spending could be cut, the Bush-era tax breaks could be allowed to expire or the Capital Gains and/or Estate taxes could be raised to their previous levels. Any one of these things would contribute massively toward paying down the national debt, and Ryan addresses none of them.

Are those ideas controversial? Of course they are, but that should not preclude a person such as Ryan — who has publicly mounted a political cross — from considering them. He has already advocated crippling blows to Medicaid and Social Security, loudly acknowledging that by doing so he has opened himself up to attacks from Democrats “for years to come.”

The College Republican chairpersons even go far as to liken Ryan’s proposal to “political suicide.” Surely then, a rational person, unconcerned with being re-elected, would consider additional avenues of fiscal policy regardless of controversy.

Assuming the College Republican chairpersons are rational, and given their stated belief that “fiscal policy should not be a partisan issue,” hypocrisy becomes obvious. Ryan’s plan is partisan on its face; e.g. while calling for a net savings, the so-called “Path to Prosperity” advocates lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.

But who knows, maybe Ryan is on to something; maybe some or all of his ideas are in the best interest of the American people. It is certainly worth knowing, but the only way to find out is to weigh all of the options before us, and there are far more than two.

This is the problem I have with the rhetoric of Ryan’s message and with the College Republican chairpersons’ irresponsible regurgitation of it: By making the false claim that alternatives do not exist, they are attempting to prevent meaningful public debates on the budget from ever taking place.

But it gets worse: the College Republican chairpersons utterly vilify Democrats, saying that they “want to continue America’s plunge into insurmountable debt.”

Really? Listen, you do not have to like Democrats, but you would have to be a fool to swallow this kind of garbage. It is not the intent of Democrats to destroy America; in fact, they intend just the opposite. There is nothing wrong with questioning the wisdom of Democrat leadership — to do so is quintessentially American — but to pretend as though they are intending evil upon us is as absurd as it is childish.

I am not writing this to attack Republicans or defend Democrats. What I want, what I desperately long for, is honest public discourse; if not in Washington, then at least between citizens. I believe that the parties each represent essential interests in our republic, and that the balance of those interests ought to be carefully weighed where everyone can see. The College Republican chairpersons seem to want a single-party government, in which policy is framed in terms of absolutes.

Even if you agree with every aspect of Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity,” even if you think he’s the second coming, I implore you: Do not fall for traps such as the one laid by the College Republican chairpersons April 11. Do not let other people do your thinking for you; such people are unlikely to have your best interests at heart.