House Republicans do not like the looming sequesters. Neither do I. I have yet to meet anyone who does. There is a good reason why: They were designed to be detested and to be bad public policy — mindless across-the-board cuts in domestic spending areas would be anathema to most Democrats, as cuts in defense would be to most Republicans, and to avoid the cuts, the super committee would be impelled to find a better and broader deal. It did not.
There are good reasons for Congress to pick up the resulting pieces and find ways to overcome the bad policy of sequesters — by finding better ways to make up the difference in deficit reduction. There is a large principle at work here. Deal-making is the heart of the legislative process. When you make a deal, you keep it — unless there is a mutual decision to reopen negotiations. Breach the trust over deal-making and bad things follow.
I might find the “never mind what we promised last year” approach more palatable if the overall Ryan budget were a genuine, straightforward and honest road map to a balanced budget in a reasonable form. But, as many commentators have now pointed out, it is not.
The budget that Romney has wholly embraced includes $500 billion in Medicare cuts over the coming decade, the same amount for which he criticizes President Barack Obama. The tax plan is no plan at all. Ryan required the Congressional Budget Office to accept his premises to show it would result in sharp deficit reduction over the coming decades — but one of those premises is that all discretionary spending, defense and domestic, would shrink to 3.75 percent of the gross domestic product in 2050.
Since the budget both protects and enhances defense, and with Romney providing a template by pledging to put a floor of 4 percent of GDP under defense, that would mean zero government except for defense and entitlements — no air traffic control system, no FBI, no National Institutes of Health and so on. C’mon.
I like and admire Ryan. He is a nice guy, smart as a whip, more straightforward than most, genuinely concerned with making public policy. He is known back home, in his labor-heavy competitive district, for gutsy straight talk. That makes this Ryan budget an even deeper disappointment and sets up the rest of this Congress not for a breather, or a bipartisan way forward, but for more confrontation, more bitterness and less real deliberation.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.