Speculation is simmering as to what, precisely, President Obama will say in tonight's State of the Union address. The White House has been speaking in general terms about the speech, resulting in opinions flying about what, if anything, he may actually propose.
Much less attention has, naturally, been given to what the Republican response to the Chief Executive may be. But the ideas of the man giving the response -- 40-year-old Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee - have been causing a stir among lawmakers and pundits.
Presumably, Ryan will draw from these ideas on government finances and the U.S. economy - ideas set forth in his Roadmap for America's Future - when he takes center stage following Obama's address. The GOP leaders who selected him to give the response certainly expect him to.
Paul Ryan is uniquely qualified to address the state of our economy and the fiscal challenges that face our country, House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, said. We're broke, and decisive action is needed to help our economy get back to creating jobs and end the spending binge in Washington that threatens our children's future.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, cited Ryan's unique understanding of the fiscal problems we face, his command of policy, and his adherence to the principles of our nation's founding.
Paul Ryan has spent the better part of the last two years explaining exactly why the Democrat agenda has been so bad for jobs and the economy, and why we need to ditch the government-driven approach in favor of creative, common-sense solutions that put the American people back in charge, McConnell said.
Ryan, in an introduction to his Roadmap, criticized the Democrats' approach to the fiscal crisis, and is expected to make the same points tonight.
The Federal Government's current fiscal path is unsustainable: it leads to unprecedented levels of spending and debt that will overwhelm the budget, smother the economy, weaken America's competitiveness in the 21st century global economy, and threaten the survival of the government's major benefit programs, Ryan said.
The President and congressional Majority are only hastening America's march toward this reckoning, adding to trillions of dollars worth of unfunded liabilities, and accelerating the erosion of Americans' health care and retirement security. Their 'progressivism' ironically points backwards, Ryan said.
The Roadmap talks of reductions in government spending and tackles such prominent issues as entitlements, taxes and job creation.
According to Ryan, his plan:
- provides universal access to affordable health coverage, not by expanding government, but by reinforcing the role of consumers - patients - in a truly competitive marketplace;
- saves and strengthens Social Security, making the program sustainable for the long run, and helping expand investments needed for economic growth;
- offers an alternative to today's needlessly complex and inefficient tax code, providing the option of a simplified mechanism that better promotes and rewards work, saving, and investment;
- and helps the Nation's workforce prepare for success in the global economy by transforming 49 job training programs, scattered across eight agencies, into a flexible, dynamic program focused on results, and accompanied by clear measures of transparency and accountability.
Many on the political right have welcomed the plan.
His is the only comprehensive, pro-growth proposal that has appeared on Capitol Hill to cope with America's looming fiscal crisis, generated largely by the accelerating growth in entitlements, said Robert Moffit and Kathryn Nix, in an article for the Heritage Foundation, in December 2010.
The article appeared just after the Presidentially appointed bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform made its recommendations, which many on the right and the left praised as a comprehensive and viable way forward. Ryan, who was a commission member, had many good things to say about the group's proposals, but voted against the plan because it called for eliminating tax breaks.
The Roadmap would put entitlement spending on a sustainable path, while simplifying the tax code and transforming health care to empower patients, Nix said in an earlier article.
Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, has been effusive in his praise of Ryan's Roadmap, calling it the most important proposal in domestic policy since Ronald Reagan embraced supply-side economics in the 1980 presidential campaign.
It's not only the freshest, boldest, and most comprehensive Republican thinking, it's also the most relevant, Barnes said, predicting that adopting the plan would help the GOP win back the White House in 2012.
Barnes said the Roadmap was just the thing for dealing with economic stagnation, uncontrolled spending, the deficit and long-term debt, soaring tax rates, health care, the housing problem, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.
Other prominent Republicans like conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, and Jeb Bush have also lauded Ryan's proposals.
Not surprisingly, the praise has not echoed on the other side of the political spectrum.
If enacted, Ryan's Roadmap would dismantle social insurance programs, raise taxes on the middle class, and transfer wealth from the middle class to corporations and millionaires, said Andrew Fieldhouse, in an article this month for the Economic Policy Institute, entitled Paul Ryan's Plan for Millionaires' Gain and Middle-Class Pain.
Fieldhouse noted that the President's fiscal commission, as well as the Bipartisan Policy Center's Deficit Reduction Task Force, have each put out plans to deal with the national fiscal crisis that contained a mixture of revenue increases and spending cuts to achieve long-term fiscal stability.
The Ryan Roadmap, on the other hand, makes no pretense of a balanced approach. It would slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits and deplete tax revenue, Fieldhouse said.
Fieldhouse said the Ryan plan ignores lessons learned from the Great Depression and underscored by the Great Recession and still swears by the failed Bush-era economic policies of cutting taxes for the wealthy while neglecting the middle class and national investments. It even proposes the partial privatization of Social Security, an increase in taxes on the middle class, the elimination of corporate taxes, and the privatization of Medicare.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who caucuses with the Senate Democrat majority, said this week that he will bring Ryan's plan up for a vote in the Senate.
I will do my best to bring the Ryan plan to the floor of the United States Senate, to give my Republican colleagues the opportunity to vote to privatize Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare and make massive cuts on programs needed by ordinary people at the same time as they give tax breaks to the rich, Sanders said Monday in a televised interview.
Sanders challenged the GOP to go on record in support of Ryan's Roadmap.
If that's what they want to campaign on, let them vote on that. And if they don't bring that forward, I will do my best to see that they have that vote, Sanders said.