James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Paul Ryan vs. Tom Coburn over Obama’s debt commission

December 2, 2010

Rep. Paul Ryan says he will vote “no” on the recommendations of the Obama debt commission: “Obviously, I’m not going to vote for it. … Not only didn’t it address the elephant in the room, healthcare, it made it fatter.”

But Sen. Tom Coburn, along with Sen. Mike Crapo, will vote “yes.” Coburn: “We are at a day of reckoning. This is a starting point, that’s all this is. You pass this package, then you do more.”

Here’s how I see it: Both men are genuinely frightened about America’s exploding debt problem. Of that I have no doubt. Both are also in favor of a dramatically smaller Federal government. But for Ryan, healthcare — maybe even more than the tax increases — is a poison pill. Coburn, I think, believes the panel’s report moves the ball forward overall and wants to keep the debate open. In response, my friends over at Americans for Tax Reform are already unloading on Coburn, Crapo and Judd Gregg since the plan does contain a net tax increase. On his Twitter account, ATR’s Ryan Ellis wrote: “by agreeing to the simpson-bowles tax hikes, pledge breakers coburn, crapo, and gregg have admitted they lied about taxes to get elected.”

But tax rates can be raised and lowered. Structural changes to entitlements and the tax system are longer lasting and are worth fighting for.  Now I don’t know whether Coburn and Crapo would actually vote in the Senate for the package as is. But if the Ryan-Rivlin plan were also part of the deal? That would be tempting, even with the tax increases. UPDATE: It seems Coburn would vote “as is” though he says he will work hard for changes.

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