- - Thursday, April 10, 2014


If you really want to appreciate the good work that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and the House Republicans did Thursday in passing their budget, consider the Pencil Story.

A friend of mine teaches a class that includes a lot of children from families caught up in the government welfare system, a system that encourages dependency and discourages self-reliance. She told me that the students sometimes come to class on test day without even bringing a pencil. Without a pencil, the kids face getting a zero on the test, but that, my teacher-friend said, was the point. Because they know the public schools will push them along whether they pass or fail, because the government is taking over so much of their lives, because the state is stepping in where families used to be in charge, the kids feel no personal responsibility to learn or to put in the work to build a better life.

That attitude, I’d argue, is in a nutshell the reason why big government must be stopped and why a sense of individual responsibility and morality must be revived. Not that the media have devoted much attention to it, but the budget blueprint that Mr. Ryan and the Republicans pushed through the House (with no Democratic help) would be a major first step in that process.

In a budget that sets up federal spending priorities for the next decade, we all can point to things we might have done differently than Mr. Ryan. But conservatives should be really proud of the fact that Paul Ryan has brought forth and passed a budget that truly does reflect constitutional values. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best budget that could be written and still get the 219 votes it got to pass the House.

Consider that Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has said the Senate is not even going to bother to write a budget this year, while President Obama’s budget was dead on arrival the minute it reached Capitol Hill.

Here are just some of the big things the Ryan budget gets right:

1) This is a budget that balances the books in 10 years. Again, some of us might like to get there more quickly. But remember, President Obama’s budgets never balance and don’t even pretend to anymore. And from a balanced budget, you get the kind of economic certainty that promotes growth and investment, because businesses can make plans in a stable environment.

2) This is a budget that cuts $5 trillion over 10 years. Again, we’re talking about “cuts” in the Washington sense of slowing the growth of government, not actually reducing things from one year to the next. Mr. Ryan bends the growth curve from 5 percent to 2 percent a year, a major dent in our spending and, again, perhaps the toughest budget that could win a majority in the House.

3) This is a budget that takes seriously the one mission that is unambiguously the responsibility of the federal government in our system: providing for the national defense. President Obama’s budget, which in some respects will take our military back to levels not seen since after World War II, is simply unacceptable.

4) This is a budget that clears the ground for real tax reform. It would spread the burden of taxation more fairly across all Americans, it would eliminate loopholes that encourage tax cheating and crony capitalism, and it would take on — finally — all the items in the tax code and the Obama agenda trying to impose a government-mandated redistribution of wealth. (And Mr. Ryan, widely expected to take over the gavel of the House Ways and Mean Committee next year from retiring Rep. Dave Camp, would be in an excellent position to push real tax reform.)

5) And this is a budget that, most importantly, finally addresses the question of entitlement reform. That is the single biggest problem in trying to restrain federal spending and restore conservative principles of limited government. What more proof do we need that the whole Great Society/War on Poverty mentality of government activism doesn’t work, either economically or morally? Budgets may look like just numbers on a spreadsheet, but really what the Ryan blueprint amounts to is an attack on a philosophy of government that is undermining our work ethic, fraying our family bonds, and eating away at the foundations of a free society.

The point of the Pencil Story is that it wasn’t the teacher’s fault and it wasn’t the students’ fault. It was the fault of a philosophy of government that, in trying to help, actually contributes to social ills ranging from rising divorce rates and broken homes to lower educational achievement and higher incarceration rates. That philosophy argues that a cold, sterile, remote bureaucrat administering “welfare” knows better how to fix social problems than do private charities, churches and individuals empowered to improve their own lives.

We have to change that way of thinking. The Ryan budget is an excellent place to start.

Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and www.washingtontimes.com.

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