Rep. Paul Ryan Rejects "Shared Sacrifice" As "Deeply Pessimistic"

May 16, 2011 1:59 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Rep. Paul Ryan

In his speech on the deficit last month, President Obama described Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) radical budget as a "deeply pessimistic" plan that would upend "the basic social compact in America." Further, he criticized the proposal for demanding "sacrifice from those who can least afford it" and called for "shared sacrifice" from the wealthiest Americans, who actually receive a tax cut under Ryan's plan.

House Republican leaders responded by attacking Obama for being "excessively partisan" and, two days later, passed the Ryan budget anyway. Ever since, they have been struggling to deal with the backlash from Americans who can't stomach losing programs they rely on to subsidize more tax cuts for people who don't need them.  

Perhaps sensing that Republicans are losing in the court of public opinion, Ryan is trying to retool his message. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune ahead of his speech at the Economic Club of Chicago today, Ryan dismisses the concept of "shared sacrifice," suggesting that a more accurate term would be "shared scarcity." Borrowing a phrase from the president's speech, Ryan argues that "shared sacrifice" represents "a deeply pessimistic vision" that should be rejected:

The talk is too often restricted to "shared sacrifice." This sets up a debate where we are really just arguing over whom to hurt and how best to manage the decline of our nation. It is a framework that accepts permanently higher taxes and bureaucratically determined access to health care as givens.

A better name for this approach is "shared scarcity." It represents a deeply pessimistic vision for the future of this country — one that would lead us to a diminished future.

Ryan's op-ed is titled "The Budget Debate We All Deserve" — and therein lies the problem: Ryan doesn't think we deserve an honest debate, because he can't win on the merits. He doesn't want to quibble over "whom to hurt," so he'll just punish the poor and the elderly. He doesn't like "bureaucratically determined access to health care" (unless it's determined by insurance company bureaucrats), so he'll just take away access altogether.

Euphemisms aside, it's not the "sacrifice" or the "scarcity" with which Ryan has a problem; it's the sharing.