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The Rightmost Pole, Not The Ditch We Die In

Reihan Salam has some interesting takes on the politics of Paul Ryan's Path To Prosperity.  It seems to Salam that center-right intra-coalitional dynamics influenced the PTP for the worse by requiring that any tax reform be revenue neutral.  This meant that Ryan's PTP included less spending for Medicare (and therefore sharper cuts in Medicare) than did his earlier Roadmap. 

Salam is probably right that Ryan expected his plan to be the "rightmost pole" in the entitlement debate.  Ryan has succeeded in one very important sense.  The broad center-right's conversation on health care and entitlement issues is the best it has been in a long time.  There isn't as much John McCain mumbling a little boilerplate about health care before moving on to really important issues like earmarks.  One danger is that the PTP will become a test of conservative identity that determines whether one is a "real conservative."  The kind of shallow opportunism shown by Newt Gingrich should be stigmatized, but there needs to be room for different kinds of realistic right-leaning health care and entitlement reforms.

Salam wonders whether Ryan's PTP was overreaching both in how much it reduced Medicare spending and in presenting such an aggressive Medicare plan before having won what should be easier arguments like block granting Medicaid.  That is a plausible fear, but I wonder if the Democrats aren't in at least equal danger of overreach.  Salam writes, "Democrats see an opportunity to double down on a deus ex IPAB approach that hands over political responsibility for Medicare cuts to an appointed board with an ill-defined mandate to be formed in the future. They sense that this is a political winner, and that now is decidedly not the time for compromise."

This Democratic rigidity is actually a weakness if Republicans have the wit and skill to exploit it.  The Republican message in 2012 shouldn't be Ryancare vs. bankruptcy or Ryancare vs. entitlement mentality or Ryancare vs. Obama-hasn't-proposed-anything-realistic-wah-wah-wah.  It should be a post-Ryan plan (here are my thoughts - again) vs. enormous centralized denials of service and cuts to health care providers that will make it harder for seniors to see doctors.   

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