Just Ryan’s Budget? Learning to be Passionate about Fiscal Policy

Just yesterday, Paul Ryan released a roadmap (a blueprint, a guidebook – any sort of navigation tool, really) for a 10 year budget plan. According to the news sources I’ve perused in search of a layman’s explanation of the budget and its implications, Rep. Ryan plans to eliminate the deficit in the next decade through “$4.6 trillion in spending cuts, with 40% of these reductions coming from the repeal of much of the 2010 health-care law” (Wall Street Journal). Senate Democrats will be releasing their own budget plans in the days ahead, and the both chambers are under pressure from the executive branch to cut a deal on the federal budget well before the beginning of the fiscal year (October 2013).

As we all know, “compromise” and “working across the aisle” have been the hot phrases since we tripped over the fiscal cliff a few months ago, and as Mr. Ryan revealed his plans, it seems everyone is wondering how, and if, it leaves room for compromise.

According to the Wall Street Journal, though Republicans and Democrats display significant differences on budget policy, Mr. Ryan’s budget might suggest just this. They report that Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said, “I think we have a window of opportunity between now and around August to September… This is an opportunity, it seems to me, to try and resolve those issues.”

In particular, the Journal discussed Ryan’s cuts to defense spending in his budget, reporting, “Lawmakers must ensure that spending cuts don’t affect ‘readiness or capabilities,’ said [Republican Rep. Mike] Simpson, who acknowledged that Republicans in previous years might have been reluctant to curb defense spending. The size of the deficit has made the GOP more willing to look everywhere for savings, he said. ‘The reality is you have to look at the whole picture.’”

This willingness to look at the whole picture might indeed make room for compromise – and indeed, we must push for give and take on both sides of the aisle. But to be honest, I wonder how many of us (especially, perhaps, my fellow twenty-somethings) have invested real time in understanding the nuances of fiscal policy, and the constraints and challenges of lawmaking in general. How many of us know about the difficulty of getting a House bill past committee, past the Rules Committee, across the Speaker’s desk, onto the House Floor, and (if you’re still with me) across the Capitol Building to the Senate chamber? And when the bill has to do with fiscal policy? I wonder if we miss the news, and the laws.

So I want to challenge myself (and each of us) to become interested in fiscal policy. It’s not just Paul Ryan’s budget; it’s not just one more seemingly impossible, gridlocked debate on the Hill. Ryan’s budget, the Senate’s response, President Obama’s meetings and speeches, they make up a unique story. A story that we could invest in, if we choose it. We can follow the story on Google news or our iPads. We can check in every month, or every couple of hours. We can learn the rules and constraints facing our representatives. We can decide if we think that defense cuts, balanced with tax increases, or reconfigurations of the tax brackets, or revisions to healthcare, will be the best way to trim the astronomical deficit facing our generation as one of the most pressing political problems.

In the Washington Post, Ryan gave his reason for writing the budget the way he did. “Last year, the American people chose divided government. So this year, we have to make it work, … we offer this budget in recognition of that need — and in a spirit of good will.”

In a gesture of the same good will, I say, this is a story worth understanding.

-Hilary Sherratt is a recent graduate from Gordon College, where she majored in Religion, Ethics and Politics. She is currently working as a grant writer at Gordon, and loves all kinds of writing. She hopes to eventually get her PhD in theology or history. She blogs about everyday life athttp://thewildlove.wordpress.com and tweets at @hilarysherratt