Credit where due -- the House of Representatives just voted to pass Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan's debt reduction proposal, with just four Republican defections. No Democrat voted in favor of the bill, which ended up passing 235 to 193.
It wasn't always clear that the GOP would want to go on record supporting a serious effort of reforming our nation's entitlements. Speaking to House Republicans at their January of 2010 retreat, President Obama singled out Ryan's previous proposal, the "Roadmap for America's Future," for criticism. Soon, Obama's political allies pounced, and most Republicans wanted to create distance between themselves and Ryan's ambitious plan. While they'd say kind things about Ryan, they were reluctant to embrace his specific ideas.
Even after Republicans won the majority in the House and Ryan took over the Budget Committee, it wasn't clear how much leeway he'd be given. One argument was that no real entitlement reform was going to happen with Obama in the White House anyway, so there was no point in giving Democrats a plan they could demagogue that had no chance of being enacted.
While Ryan's budget doesn't have the scope of his "Roadmap," it's still a serious attempt to tackle Medicare and Medicaid and put our nation on the right fiscal trajectory. And not only did it pass, but it was embraced by nearly the entire Republican Party after a furious week of attacks by Democrats claiming that the proposal would reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor and senior citizens to reward the rich. (The handful of 'no' votes were Reps. Ron Paul, Tex., Walter Jones, N.C., David McKinley, W.V., and Denny Rehberg, Mont.)
Traditionally, the obstacle to getting either party to embrace entitlement reform was that there was a risk to going on record as wanting to change these popular programs , while doing nothing was safe. However, at least for Republicans, that dynamic has shifted, and doing nothing is politically risky. And the credit for that development goes to the Tea Parties for putting pressure on Republicans to get serious about spending.
The Ryan budget will not become law in its current state as long as Obama is president. While the prevailing wisdom is that this vote could make Republicans more vulnerable in 2012, the flip side is that if Democrats pull out all the stops to demagogue the issue, and House Republicans hang on and the GOP even gains Senate seats, it will end the third-rail status of these entitlement programs that, if unchanged, will rob future generations of the American Dream.
There will be a lot of opportunities to criticize GOP leaders going forward, but today, they deserve a pat on the back.