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The Paul Ryan Budget: Good Enough

According to ex-governor Jennifer Granholm, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) needs a “reality check” over his new budget. Blogger Jonathan Bernstein adds that Ryan’s budget “is not serious.” A Los Angeles Times editorial nods in agreement, insisting that, “it seems fated to wind up in the… dustbin.”

More pointedly, Salon editor Joan Walsh labels the budget “a cocktail of snake oil and castor oil.” Columnist Dana Milbank writes that some of the wording in the budget is “Orwellian” and he considers Ryan “patronizing.” Blogger and academic Robert Reich claims that the budget is an example of “radical Social Darwinism.” Washington Post writer Matt Miller considers the budget full of “deceptions” and argues that “the first order of business is to expose Ryan’s overall plan for the misguided, misleading, and unacceptable vision it represents.” Finally, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney joined in to proclaim that the Ryan budget is “aggressively and deliberately ignorant.”


Sounds bad.

Well, is it? Is Paul Ryan’s budget, titled “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal”, really as extreme and uncompromising as its opponents suggest?

First, we must understand what goals one considers when creating a budget. Obviously, budgets are meant to provide a spending and policy outline to the government. However, budgets are also inherently political, and they convey distinct messages to the political world. What messages are this year’s budgets proclaiming?

The Obama budget reeks of “re-elect me.” After his budget died in the Senate with a 0-97 vote last year, President Obama decided to move farther left by abandoning any pretenses of concern over spending. His budget racks up trillions of dollars more in debt and never balances.

What message does Paul Ryan’s budget send? To an honest reader, the answer is mostly “compromise.” The Medicare reform at the heart of his budget is the result of a partnership with Senate Democrat Ron Wyden. The Ryan budget repeals ObamaCare, but a majority of Americans support repeal. The budget doesn’t really touch Social Security, and avoids drastic measures to balance the budget, only doing so in 2040. Just for a point of contrast, Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) budget proposes to balance the budget by 2017, more than twenty years earlier than Paul Ryan.

The question isn’t whether the Ryan budget is “too extreme” for serious consideration. The question is, should conservatives support it? After all, the Ryan budget is full of compromises. Programs and agencies that conservatives want to eliminate are instead reformed. The budget does not abolish a single department, whereas Rand Paul abolishes four.

It is very rare for a bill, let alone a budget, to make it through the legislative process without amendments or compromises. Particularly with a divided government, compromise is necessary for passing legislation. Does Paul Ryan compromise too much? Perhaps. Compared to the excellent “Tea Party Budget” proposed by Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee (R-UT), and Jim DeMint (R-SC), the Paul Ryan budget does not go as far in reforming and shrinking government as we would like. However, it is an excellent first step, and an undeniably massive improvement on the existing system or the Obama budget.

As conservatives, we must be able to compromise on legislation in order to make a difference, but we can never compromise on principles. Paul Ryan’s budget may be too limited and cautious, but it does not compromise on fundamental principle. It repeals ObamaCare, privatizes government-sponsored housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, block-grants Medicaid and food stamps, caps the size of government, and implements necessary tax reform. We cannot let the “best” be the enemy of the “good”. Rand Paul’s budget may be best, but Paul Ryan’s budget is good enough to support.