Continued from page 1

This, of course is the demagogic debate Democrats want to have in the 2012 election cycle. With half of all the states still struggling with jobless rates of between 9 percent and 14 percent, they need a big issue to win back disaffected independents who fled their party in last year’s midterm races.

House Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to cut spending by $6.2 trillion over 10 years - with a huge whack at entitlements - may give them one.

His plan would impose strict caps on discretionary spending, curb farm subsidies, reduce the federal workforce, cut defense programs the Pentagon does not want and repeal Obamacare.

On entitlements, he would block grant Medicaid money to the states and let them run it, which would lead to needed innovations and potentially big savings.

At this writing, there were no details on Social Security, but on Medicare - the other third rail of American politics - he would let seniors choose from a range of private insurance plans that Medicare would subsidize.

During the bitter battle over Obamacare, Republicans scored big political points with seniors by pointing out it would be financed in large part by cutting $500 billion from Medicare.

The ink on Mr. Ryan’s Medicare plan was hardly dry before it came under attack from Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, who said the plan called for “eliminating guaranteed benefits for seniors under Medicare.”

Mr. Ryan’s overall budget-cutting plan is excellent, but its strategic weakness is rolling politically explosive Social Security and Medicare reforms into the package instead of dealing with them separately, perhaps in a blue-ribbon panel that could build public support for necessary reforms.

Mr. Ryan’s plan is going nowhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate, but it has handed Democrats the entitlement issue they were hoping for to refocus the debate away from the deficits and debt that now threaten to engulf our country.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.