Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Throwing Stones

Feb 5, 2010
A number of years ago, two of our Board Members, former Congressmen Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) and Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), developed a Social Security reform plan (still one of the best to date). 
 
Along with it, they made a deal: they and other members of Congress agreed not to attack any ideas that were put forward to help fix Social Security. If anyone in their group got criticized, they would all come to his or her defense. The point was to allow for a productive debate about the different approaches to fixing Social Security.
 
Fast forward to Paul Ryan’s Roadmap Plan. While broadly heralded as a courageous exercise in specificity in a time when few policymakers are ready to talk about realistic policy trade-offs, the plan has nonetheless been criticized by some Members of Congress because of its structural changes to entitlement programs.
 
The Kolbe-Stenholm principle should apply here as well: Though shalt not criticize the policies in another’s budget plan until at least you have come up with your own.
 
First an obvious point in defense of the specifics of the Ryan plan; entitlements programs, particularly Social Security and Medicare, are going to change. They have to. They are the driving problems behind long-term budget deficits. That a comprehensive plan to deal with long-term budget imbalances includes major changes to Social Security and Medicare should come as no surprise, but rather, a demonstration that it is a serious plan.
 
But beyond that, it is counterproductive to ever coming up with a reasonable budget compromise if specific ideas are beaten up as soon as they are presented. You don’t have to like every detail of the Ryan plan—or even any of them—but as a Member of Congress whose job it is to help be part of the solution, please refrain from criticizing until you have shown you can do better.