Saving Private Ryan: How A One-Time GOP Backbencher Can Rescue The Democratic Crown Jewel

This past week, the U.S. Bishops gathered in Atlanta, with one objective being the drafting of a statement on the state of the economy. As Joan Frawley Desmond of The National Catholic Register reports, one concern several bishops had was that previous statements regarding the budget proposal of House Republicans had been overly partisan and strayed too far from a teaching of general principles and into specific policy critiques. If those concerns are shared by the broad body of bishops, it’s welcome, because within the framework of the budget proposal put forth by Paul Ryan (R-WI) is the most effective way into the 21st century economy. What’s more some of Ryan’s specific proposals are the best way to save the New Deal, the great achievment of the 20st century Democratic Party.

Within the pages of Paul Ryan's proposals lies the path to individual ownership and an authentic social justice

Ryan is the chairman of the House Budget committee and the kind of innovative thinker that usually gets good reviews at various conservative gatherings and is then ignored the minute his party has power. As the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, he had the leverage when his party took hold of the House of Representatives and when he ascended to chairmen, he could be no longer be treated like another backbencher. And it’s his proposal for Medicare that is the single best part of the budget proposals he’s been working on since taking over the committee.

The proposal is to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Instead of the government directly compensating the hospitals and doctors for services, seniors would receive a government voucher that would enable them to pick their own insurance plan. The Left—including, unfortunately, too many Catholic Democrats—has reacted as though this is tantamount to dismantling the system itself and leaving seniors in the cold.

But if giving someone a voucher and telling them they have the opportunity to own their own plan with it is being left in the cold, then let me be the first to freeze (Although at 42, I’ve still got a couple decades to wait). This is exactly the kind of idea that best serves the needs those either poor or on a more limited income.

Well-off seniors already own their own supplements and other forms of coverage that ensure access to the best medical care. Why would one supportive of Medicare’s basic principles object to those with less means being given the same opportunity?

The answer lies in a divide between those of us who support the basic principles of both the New Deal agenda of Franklin Roosevelt and later on the Medicare plan put through by Lyndon Johnson, and those who are wedded to the absolute specifics of policy—in some cases for reasons less than pure.

Let’s take a brief step back and see Medicare in its larger historical context, which is an extension of the New Deal, which in turn had Social Security as its lasting achievement. Both programs were correct responses to a society which had changed from being agrarian to being urban and industrial, meaning the elderly were far less likely to just staying on the farm as their kids took over the land and cared for the aged parents. Now the latter was more likely living on their own and unable to earn any more income. The Social Security/Medicare response was part of the move to a social insurance state, which recognized that a government role was needed.

Today the economy is changing again—or perhaps I should say it has been changing for at least three decades, and we’re still   trying to get government policy to catch up. More and more people have ownership in the stock market. The market itself, in spite of recent developments, remains a tremendous source of long-term wealth development for everyone. For anyone who disputes this, I would simply ask if you’ve backed that up by cashing out your 401(k) and started to rely exclusively on the government for your retirement security. If you haven’t, then your actions suggest you agree with me.

In the arena of health care, the same principle of individual ownership should apply. The shift to a voucher program means the government still recognizes a basic obligation to help someone left behind in the economy, but does so in a way that gives them the chance to pick a plan best for them. I fail to see how the government directly paying the hospital is a fine example of social justice, but giving a voucher to the person you intend to help is somehow leaving them in the cold.

The voucher system Ryan proposes for Medicare should have its principles applied across the board. The building of public schools was at one time a noble idea to educate everyone. Now let’s extend that principle to instead spend the money on giving people a voucher and letting them make their own education decisions. Instead of deducting a portion of someone’s paycheck and sticking it in a government Social Security fund, instead give that person the chance to invest that same money in a fund with a higher rate of return. The basic principles of the New Deal remain fundamentally intact, while the implementation of those ideas is brought into the  21st century.

By refusing to recognize changing times, modern Democrats place their party's greatest achievment at risk

There was a time we might have called such thinking “progressive.” Because, you know, it’s about making progress. But the people who called themselves “progressives” today are more a left-wing cult that impose reactionary economic thinking among themselves.  Furthermore, Democratic officeholders have become more concerned about the fact that a voucher system would deprive them of controlling the lives of those with less economic means—through control of their education, health care and retirement, which in turns means the loss of political issues every two years. I suppose if one party winning elections is all you care about, that’s an understandable concern. If your concern is the well-being of people in this country, then it means nothing.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was called an enemy of capitalism in 1932 when he took office and proposed an array of government interventions into the free market. I’m not breaking any new ground in saying that in fact FDR saved capitalism from its own excesses with the New Deal. Now the roles are reversed. The achievement of the New Deal—the security it gave to people—are at risk if the programs don’t adjust to changing times. And it’s Paul Ryan and his proposals that would ironically save the Democratic crown jewel from itself.



  • Will B

    In defending Paul Ryan’s budget, Mr. Flaherty makes an excellent argument as to why true limited government conservatives should not seek refuge in the GOP. Flaherty is correct, Ryan’s budget seeks to preserve the welfare state of the New Deal. This is precisely why I no longer support the mainstream GOP. The GOP recognizes the failures of the welfare state and wants to reform it, and thereby preserve it. I recognize the failures of the welfare state, and want to abolish it.

    The welfare state is failing because, as a matter of economics, it necessarily must fail. The government has no money of its own. Whatever money it has it gets from society. Whatever power it has it gets from society. There’s no doubt that government can redirect large amounts of money or power toward a specific societal problem, but then society has that much less power and wealth for itself and other problems spring up, and amazingly, the government has not even solved the initial problem etiher. So does the government apologize and return power and money to society? Of course not. It says that it needs even more of our money and power and that it promises to “reform.”

    No thank you. The role of government is to protect our life, our liberty, and our property. The government has no right to the private property of its citizenry. I don’t want to send my money to Washington and beg for a voucher back for my education, or my health care, or my retirement. I want to keep my money and use it to support my family, my church, and my local community.

    • Brian C

      “The GOP recognizes the failures of the welfare state and wants to reform it, and thereby preserve it. I recognize the failures of the welfare state, and want to abolish it.”

      Completely abolishing the welfare state is not a winning electoral strategy, and the GOP recognizes this.

  • tz1

    Yet having the state take care of mom and dad was the first part of the breakdown of the family. If uncle sugar will take care of you in your old age, why have extra children?

    Not the church, not the sons and daughters, but the state has responsibility.

    And we wonder at the corruption.

  • catholicmom

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that the Paul Ryan budget plan is “unjust and wrong” and not in line with the Catholic Social Doctrine. I will follow words of the bishops, not this blogger.



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