A budget discussion this February between Paul Ryan and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner exemplifies the difference between the approach of the two parties heading into this election. Ryan confronts Geithner with a chart from his own budget which shows unfunded liabilities heading for the stratosphere after 2020. Geithner’s response is to mock the idea of worrying about anything beyond the current budget window.
Here’s the key exchange:
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner: I like this chart; I looked at this chart yesterday. You’re talkingabout I think more than half a century. But if you look at the gapbetween us–between [2010 and 2020], it’s a pretty smallgap. In that gap though–that 10 to 20 gap, which is all we’re debatingtoday–is a gap where you’re achieving that slightly diminished path…
Paul Ryan: Here’s the point, if you’ll let me…Leaders are supposed tofix problems. We have a $99.4 trillion unfunded liability. Ourgovernment is making promises to Americans that it has no way ofaccounting for them. And so you’re saying yeah, we’re stabilizing it butwe’re not fixing it in the long run. That means we’re just going to keeplying to people. We’re going to keep all these empty promises going.
Pressed on this point, Geithner admits the future looks dim and that he has no plan to fix it:
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner: We have millions ofAmericans retiring everyday and that will drive substantial growth ratesfor healthcare costs. And so you were right to say…We’re not coming before you to say we have adefinitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is that wedon’t like yours.
Geithner has just summarized Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Yes, there are huge, unsustainable systemic problems. No, we don’t have a plan to address them. But we don’t like your plan. No doubt Obama will dress it up and make it sound slightly better, but that’s the core message starting today. The President who campaigned on hope and change is now going to campaign largely on people’s fear of making tough but necessary choices.
The good news for the country is that we have one party that is willing to offer solutions rather than play politics. By choosing Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney just signaled that he’s ready to lead that party. And that’s what real hope feels like.