Must is a strong word, but though my initial inclination was to disagree with that I think Gawande is correct. As of two years ago, what I was saying is that Barack Obama had already produced a budget document and all it had brought forth from the right was whining that it sets taxes and deficits too high. The right way to think of solving the long-term fiscal challenge is as an iterative process, and if the right thinks it has a politically viable idea with lower taxes and smaller deficits than Obama’s budget, then the obligation was on them to write it down on paper. And now Paul Ryan has more-or-less done this. He’s perilously vague on some key points, but the basic shape of it is clear—extension of Bush tax cuts plus further reduction in tax rates on the rich plus higher taxes for the middle class plus drastic cuts in services for the poor plus more modest cuts in services for the middle class.
Obviously, this isn’t going to pass in the current congress. But I think it does set the stage in which the White House or someone in congress ought to produce a pie-in-the-sky counter budget. Where’s my financial activities tax, my serious defense cuts, my revenue positive carbon pricing, progressive corporate income tax reform, my full federalization of Medicad, etc? The decision by Paul Ryan to produce an ideological extremist budget document rather than a real legislative negotiating position is eccentric, but it actually deserves a response and not just criticism.