It's budget season in Washington, and Americans are getting a window into the future and gaining a clear picture of how each party plans to deal — or not deal — with the minefield of challenges standing in the way of a prosperous American future.
Will Washington continue to turn a blind eye to our deteriorating fiscal situation, or will it face America's deteriorating fiscal situation head-on? Will it kick tough decisions down the road, or will it undertake the kind of reform that will restore an environment where economic growth and job creation can flourish over the long term?
On display in our nation's capital are two blueprints that will determine our destiny as a nation — one is the budget released earlier this year by the White House and the other is the budget unveiled days ago by House Republicans. The documents reveal a stark contrast in governing.
I believe President Barack Obama missed an excellent opportunity to lead during this pivotal point in our history. This was his chance to use the presidential pulpit to put America on a path to eliminating America's massive debt burden, shoring up our insolvent entitlements and reforming the tax code to make it fairer and more competitive.
Unfortunately, the president's budget fell far short of the mark. It did not address Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These three entitlements consume a whopping 40 percent of our budget today and will grow exponentially as more and more boomers retire. It triples the amount of debt held by the public during the next decade. It creates a structurally larger size of government, with spending that never dips below 23 percent of gross domestic product. To fund that level of spending, it raises $1.5 trillion in new taxes. Not exactly reassuring for investors, businesses and families who are ultimately responsible for shouldering our sky-high debt.
The good news out of Washington is that House Republicans have quickly filled this void of leadership. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan put forward a refreshingly honest plan that offers bold solutions at significant political risk. It may well serve as our best chance to avert a European-style debt crisis and put the economy back on a growth footing.
The GOP House budget would restore the limited government, free-enterprise conditions that made America the innovative engine of the world. It eliminates $6.2 trillion from the president's budget during the next decade, bringing federal spending below 20 percent of gross domestic product — the average for more than 60 years. It provides deficit reduction of $4.4 trillion, which would either need to borrowed with interest or tax from the private economy.
The Republican House budget confronts the explosive growth of Medicare costs so that the program remains available to beneficiaries in the future. It dispenses with the blank-check form of subsidies that generates extraordinary waste and inefficiency, and instead allows consumers to choose a coverage plan tailored to their needs at a subsidized cost. Changes will not affect anyone older than 55.
On Social Security, the House budget forces our leaders in Washington to work together on reforms to ensure the program's solvency. It builds upon ideas recommended by the president's bipartisan fiscal commission.
The House budget also implements welfare reform that saves money throughout the system. It consolidates the labyrinth of duplicative job-training programs into more accessible and accountable career scholarships that equip workers with the skills to succeed in the global economy. It sensibly ends the federal government's burdensome one-size-fits-all approach to paying its share of Medicaid.
Instead, the federal government would empower states with block grants that let them shape their programs according to the needs of their residents. The broad range of options designed by the states will translate into better care for Medicaid patients.
The GOP budget also puts America on the offensive in spurring economic growth. It simplifies the tax code for individuals and corporations, eliminating the complex web of loopholes and deductions that give special treatment to the industries with the best lobbyists while cutting top rates on both from 35 percent to 25 percent. These long-overdue reforms promote work and investment, and are an essential ingredient to retaining America's edge over our competitors.
Moving the GOP budget plan and its components across the finish line will not be easy. It will require courage from our leaders and our people to sustain the relentless resistance by forces invested in the status quo. The stakes for America have never been higher. By taking the steps necessary to put America on firm financial footing, we can ensure a bright future for our children and their children.
Jeb Bush, a Republican, was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.