Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hates your grandmother.
Or at least that’s what my friends on the left would have you believe. Over the past year, the mild-mannered Wisconsin Republican congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee has been transformed into the voice and face of conservative proposals for reform of America’s entitlement programs. Unfortunately, I believe Ryan has been unduly demonized for demonstrating the courage and ingenuity to seriously address one of our country’s greatest social and fiscal maladies.
Scott Stirrett (SFS ’13), author of “A Canadian Contention”, and I won’t agree on much, but we both recognize that Social Security is in crisis mode. About 20 percent of the federal budget funds this program, which gives dignity and stability to so many senior citizens. However, due to waves of retiring baby boomers, bureaucratic mismanagement and a rapidly expanding gap between Social Security tax revenue and outlays, the system, in its current configuration, will not last long. By the time Scott and I retire, it’s almost unthinkable that we’ll see a penny of Social Security money. That is, unless we orchestrate some dramatic changes.
Ryan has boldly worked to save Social Security for our generation and beyond. His plan is straightforward. To begin with, Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity Plan” would not alter a single element of Social Security for those aged 55 or older. This point is critical: While Democrats have spread fear through attack ads that target senior citizens, for any senior currently enjoying Social Security benefits, or any individual within a decade of doing so, the current system would stay constant.
But Ryan would introduce a significant change for those of us younger than 55. He would offer the choice — but not the mandate — of independently investing in a personal retirement account. This model has been adopted with tremendous success in Chile. There, the government guarantees a minimum pension, and if an individual’s personal account for some reason amounts to less than the national standard, public funds make up the difference. In all the decades of this system, not once has the government had to take such action. The Chilean model is solvent and stable: Chileans have more flexibility and opportunity, the payroll tax has been eliminated and the savings rate has nearly tripled. When offered a choice, 93 percent of Chileans have opted for this reformed system. Why shouldn’t Americans follow suit?
Ryan rounds out his option of a personal retirement account with two commonsense, but nonetheless controversial, reforms. The first, means testing, is essential to guaranteeing fiscal solvency and basic fairness in a reformed Social Security system. Means testing contends that a wealthy senior and a poor senior should not receive the exact same Social Security benefits. With all due respect, Mitt Romney doesn’t need to collect a Social Security check. the “Path to Prosperity Plan” centers on that basic notion of fairness.
The Ryan Plan also stresses the importance of the gradual increase of the retirement age. When the Social Security Act became law in 1935, Americans could begin collecting benefits at age 62. Back then, the average life expectancy was precisely that many years. In 2012, the average American lives over 78 years, yet 65 is the retirement age. There is no reason why the system should not be modernized to reflect that we live longer today, especially for those under the age of 55 for whom average life expectancy will be well over 80 years. Some on the left cast Ryan as a radical because of this suggestion. However, it’s a responsible and levelheaded course of action.
Hence the problem with Social Security reform: As everyone knows, former Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. called Social Security “the third rail of American politics.” Touch it and you’re dead meat.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen the Democratic Party only work to reinforce this characterization. In television ads, mailings and speeches, Democrats have mischaracterized Ryan’s proposals in order to score cheap political points. This conduct is beyond disappointing.
Disagree if you will about the fundamentals of the Ryan Plan, but give credit to its author for his courage to take on a massive and daunting challenge. The Ryan Plan may not be perfect, but it is an innovative start. Paul Ryan deserves our thanks, not our scorn, for initiating an essential conversation about the future of our country.
Sam Dulik is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is the director for special events for the Georgetown University College Republicans. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.