Democrats continued to hammer U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's "Roadmap to America's Future 2.0" plan today, with U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra telling Wisconsin reporters it would finance the reckless spending of the Bush administration on the backs of seniors.
Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the House Budget Committee with Ryan, and Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, spoke this afternoon in a conference call organized by the state Democratic Party. Baker said he was disappointed the plan contained few new proposals and called the measure to adjust Social Security for workers entering retirement in the coming decades "absolutely bizarre."
"It's great for people to have money to put in the market," Baker said of the proposal to increase privatization of Social Security. "But the whole point of Social Security is that it's your core retirement income that's supposed to be there no matter what."
Baker also criticized Ryan's proposals for Medicare.
"This is something that people value. It basically works, and he wants to replace it with a voucher system," Baker charged. "Of course we could save lots of money, but we're not going to give people the Medicare they need."
Becerra praised Ryan as a "thoughtful guy, bright individual, dedicated person to his principles," but said the plan reflected a "purity in thought" rather than responsible budgeting.
"It's good to have a counterpoint. ... We have been talking about moving the country forward as Democrats," Becerra said. "Now we know how to compare the president's and Democrats' ideas to something, versus just 'no.'"
Ryan fired back in his own conference call that while the economic collapse of October 2008 "was not one we necessarily saw coming," the nature and timing of a looming crisis in entitlement programs is clearly defined.
"If your congressman knew this crisis was coming -- knew the nature of it, the timing of it and what would be necessary to prevent it, but chose not to do so because it just wasn't good politics, what would you want to do with that person?" Ryan asked. "You'd probably want to fire that congressperson."
"I just feel a responsibility to the people who elected me from southern Wisconsin that if I see a really big problem on the horizon it's my job to work to try to fix it," he said.
Ryan said his hope is that other Republicans and Democrats are inspired to do their own plans and sounded disappointed his attempt has become political cannon fodder. He said that shows him Dems aren't ready to have a serious discussion about addressing the problem.
"I was excited to begin with when the president elevated my plan in impromptu remarks in Baltimore the other day only to find out two days later that it was going to become the subject of very organized and concerted, partisan, demagogic attacks from the Democratic political machine," he said.
Ryan said his plan fulfills the mission of health and retirement security, pays off the national debt and makes the American economy more competitive.
Ryan said Medicare and Social Security are "going broke in just a handful of years."
He said his plan doesn't make changes to Social Security benefits for those above 55, but would make modifications to the benefits of higher-income individuals and gradually increase the retirement age to 70 by the end of the century.
It also provides an option for younger individuals to have a third of their payroll taxes go into a private account managed by Social Security, "just like I have as a congressman," Ryan said.
"Not privatized, meaning you go to a stockbroker and he picks some stock for you -- managed in safe and secure index funds by Social Security in a very conservative way so that you get a better rate of return," he said.
Ryan's plan has received some generally favorable reviews from the Congressional Budget Office.
Perhaps the bottom line of the 50-page CBO report came on page 5: "The Roadmap, in the form that CBO analyzed, would result in less federal spending ... On balance, those changes would reduce federal budget deficits and the federal debt."