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Paul Ryan: America's "Expanding Culture of Dependency"


Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is known these days as the “GOP Idea Man,” and he joined On Point (click here to listen) to lay out his core proposals.

Ryan has touted a “roadmap” for reforming entitlements — Social Security and Medicare — and he’s taking on what he says are burdensome taxes and health care mandates.

“The Federal Government’s current fiscal path is unsustainable,” Ryan has written, “it leads to unprecedented levels of spending and debt that will overwhelm the budget, smother the economy, weaken America’s competitiveness in the 21st century global economy, and threaten the survival of the government’s major benefit programs.

Below is an excerpt from his “Roadmap for America’s Future” in which he explains where America has gone wrong. What do you make of his history, and his vision? What’s your question for him?

Excerpt from Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” Plan:


In 1930, just after the great stock market crash, Federal Government spending totaled just 3.4 percent of gross domestic product [GDP]. As late as 1935, the cumulative spending of State and local governments still exceeded total outlays from Washington. The New Deal created programs designed to aid an economically devastated country, and to try to put people back to work. Some were significant achievements. Some longer-term administrative measures have led to a growth of bureaucracies that over time weakened Americans’ control of the Federal Government. They also planted the seeds for a gradual change in thinking about the government’s limited powers and mission in its relationship with the people. The effect has been to increase, step by step, the extent to which Americans depend on their government – not only for assistance during temporary hardships, but for their livelihoods, housing, savings, and means of retirement.

These so-called “progressive” reforms had well-intentioned aims as they unfolded in the Great Society programs of the 1960s. But addressing the challenges of modern society with a steady expansion of government brought its own unintended burdens – and they are looming larger every day. One is that public programs have extended their reach into America’s economy and Americans’ lives. Further, the government’s largest entitlement programs, now deeply entrenched, are driving an unsustainably rapid rate of spending growth – one that threatens to overwhelm the Federal budget and smother the economy.

Equally troubling has been the effect on national character. Until recently, Americans  were known and admired everywhere for their hopeful determination to assume responsibility for the quality of their own lives; to rely on their own work and initiative; and to improve opportunities for their children to prosper in the future. But over time, Americans have been lured into viewing government – more than themselves, their families, their communities, their faith – as their main source of support; they have been drawn toward depending on the public sector for growing shares of their material and personal well-being. The trend drains individual initiative and personal responsibility. It creates an aversion to risk, sapping the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for growth, innovation, and prosperity. In turn, it subtly and gradually suffocates the creative potential for prosperity.

Now America is approaching a “tipping point” beyond which the Nation will be unable to change course – and this will lead to disastrous fiscal consequences, and an erosion of economic prosperity and the American character itself. The current administration and Congress are propelling the Nation to the brink of this precipice.

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  • Craig Reisser

    Paul Ryan is oblivious to the challenges of the 21st century. Specifically, there is the issue of sustainability regarding energy and transportation policy. He, like other “Tea Party” sympathizers in the GOP are blindsided by realities. The USA hit peak oil production in 1970 and most petroleum geology experts believe that the world is either at or fast approaching peak production at a time when global demand (witness the boom in auto sales in China and India). The USA now imports over half of our petroleum. With an average daily consumption of nearly 400 million gallons, we cannot “drill baby drill” our way to self-sufficiency. The position of Wisconsin’s GOP candidate for governor is stop the proposed highspeed rail in Wisconsin and divert the money to roads. From the vantage of this UW system graduate, that position is short-sided and absurd. Three weeks ago I drove the conjested 6 lane divided stretch of I-94 between Milwaukee and Madison and in January of 1995 I enjoyed a trip on Germany’s high-speed ICE system at 250 km/hr during a ice storm that had crippled traffic on the parllel Autobahn route between Berlin and Hannover. Not only do we need a balanced transportation system that is less dependent on petroleum and uses less of it for motor fuel, our domestic industry needs to be involved in developing and building technologies such as high-speed rail — it is a vital 21st century technology. Will we be just late-comers, importing watered-down European (German or French) or Asian (Japanese or Chinese) technologies? Or will we ignore reality until it hits smack in the face with a much greater oil shock than we experienced in 1973, 1979 or 2008?

    One final irony: Wisconsin — more than any other State — was settled by German immigrants, yet the vast majority of its people have no understanding of, or experience in, the Federal Republic of Germany led by the Progressive Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel. A State with key manufacturing industries could learn a lot from this kindred country that has mantained its manufacturing base, is reducing its unemployment, and whose citizens have a real understanding of 21st century issues such as resource sustainability, environmental protection and climate change.

    The solution is not “small government,” but rather “effective, informed government.” Again, we need to learn from the most successful Western European democracies.

    Craig Reisser, PhD – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 1984 (Dissertation: “The Residential Distribution of Italian Immigrants in Nürnberg, a Case Study in Urban, Cultural Geography”) – Fulbright in Erlangen, Germany in 1981 & translator of “Vienna: Bridge between Cultures” by Professor Elisabeth Lichtenberger.

    Now living and working in Omaha, Nebraska

  • MM

    The Census Bureau has reported that 44 million people, one in seven Americans, lived in poverty and 51 million people lacked health insurance in 2009. Mr. Ryan’s budget proposes cuts to Social Security (as well as privatizing it), and cuts to Medicare (creating a voucher system that would fail to cover costs in the private market), which would push more people into poverty. That’s unacceptable.

    Social Security is not going bankrupt. The program has a separate stream of financing. We’ve been paying more than is needed, and according to the CBO, it can pay all scheduled benefits through 2039 with no changes whatsoever. The program will be able to pay 78% of benefits after 2039, and with relatively minor changes it will remain solvent. The Social Security Trust Fund has a $2.5 trillion surplus; it’s projected to be more than $4 trillion in 2023. The CBO says that if the payroll tax was applied to all income, it would be solvent for the next 75 years.

    Medicare and Medicaid are not out of control; it’s our healthcare costs that are out of control. We pay twice as much per person as other industrialized countries and have worse health outcomes. If our costs were in line with other countries, we would have enormous budget surpluses rather than deficits. The problem lies with the insurance industry (over 31% of every dollar goes to paperwork, overhead, executive salaries, profits, etc.) and the pharmaceutical companies (we pay 2-3 times the price for the same exact drug sold in Canada or in Europe). A universal health care system would cut our bureaucratic burden in half and save over $300 billion annually.

  • William

    The era of FDR is over and we need to move on. Our prosperity did not start with the New Deal.

  • Andy Stowers

    When I think that all congressmen want to push the responsibility for the greatest generation and the baby boomers’ overspending and over using our financial resources, it makes me sick that I am going to pay in more than $1,000,000 in SS/medicare taxes over my life and my “grandparents” have paid in less than 20% of that amount and they will get more benefits from the system than I. Where is the justice in that?

    When you look at who put us into this situation it wasn’t the generation X,Y or the kids of the boomers like myself in my 40′s. It was the boomers and the their parents that ran the country into the ground, overspent and depleted the resources of their children. And, of course, the politics dictates that you cater to the those generations that have caused these problems.

    Think about it.

  • Peter

    Yes, it did start with the new deal for most Americans.

  • Robert

    Where is the evidence that Americans have become “lured into viewing government … as their main source of support” or “[dependent] on the public sector for growing shares of their material and personal well-being”? Some of us still want government to address problems that the free market has proven itself wholly incapable of addressing, like providing affordable health care for all, protecting the environment, and ensuring economic security for the elderly. That does not make us “dependent” on the government; it merely means that we expect the government to do what no other institution can.

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