Opinion

Paul Ryan: Can the GOP leader make fiscal responsibility sexy for the iPod generation?

The growing burdens of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Seurity are threatening my generation’s future. But Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s bold plan for entitlement reform leads the way out. Young people just need to follow. As Ryan told me, “It’s their future.”

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    Rep. Paul Ryan delivers a speech at a 'tea party' event on Sept. 11 in Racine, Wis.
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The same young voters who elected Barack Obama can lead the nation out of debt.

According to Congress's watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), entitlements – Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – will consume all tax revenue by 2040, leaving defense, education, and all other programs to be financed with debt.

To save the future, we need change now.

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Youth activism presents a catalyst for entitlement reform. As Washington continues to rack up record deficits on the dime of future taxpayers, no voice would be more powerful in this debate than future taxpayers themselves.

Republican Paul Ryan gets this. He’s the Wisconsin congressman with the bold plan for entitlement reform called the “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which continues to gain momentum across the country. His challenge is selling actuarial analysis to my younger generation.

Wake up, it's your future

In a phone interview a few weeks ago, Mr. Ryan confirmed to me that youth support is vital to the passage of these reforms. We should give it to him.

Ryan hopes to stop my generation from hitting the snooze button every time a politician mentions the looming debt crisis. The Roadmap enthralls us to “[l]ook at what the government is doing to you and your future, look at where we’re headed, and know it can be avoided if we turn this around.”

On the surface, the Roadmap looks like a boring policy document. Ryan’s most formidable challenge is communicating terms like Medical Savings Accounts [MSAs] and unfunded liabilities to the iPod generation. Let’s face it, we college students don’t have the longest attention spans.

Young people like to organize for ostentatious issues like legalizing marijuana, protecting the environment, or stopping a war. They don’t rally behind such un-sexy causes as fiscal responsibility.

The sky-high future taxes my generation will have to pay in service to the debt should shock them into action. But Ryan’s communication strategy goes beyond appealing to logical self-interest. He follows the examples of other politicians who inspired youth action by appealing to their larger cultural ideals.

Look at the candidates younger voters supported in 2008: Barack Obama and Ron Paul. Young people love ideals and a flashy cause. We embrace broad principles simple enough for us to understand in our distracted lives.

Obama ran an attractive campaign with catchy slogans promising to bring his signature platitudes, “hope” and “change,” to Washington. The youth supported him because they believed he would bring fresh ideas to the political scene.

Beyond rhetoric and flashy ideals

The campaign rhetoric turned out to be fresher than the policies. As Obama allowed Congress to control the agenda, he lost his idealism and along with it, his youthful base.

Ryan’s Roadmap picks up where Obama’s rhetoric left off, offering new solutions based in provocative, timeless principles. Before speaking to Ryan, I knew he had detailed solutions, but still thought his message lacked the simple idealism needed to spark youth interest.

Wrong. Matching “hope” and “change,” Ryan’s Roadmap champions “freedom, liberty, and choice.”

It just so happens these same principles won Ron Paul tremendous support from college voters. “Ron’s on to something for sure,” Ryan says. He understands young people don’t like being oppressed. We hate “the man.” Ryan observes that the youth “have an ethos that says ‘we want to be free to live our life the way we want to as long as we don’t infringe on another person’s right to do the same.’ Young people are sort of natural libertarians.”

Footing the bill for Obama's overspending

Not only are young people being billed for this administration’s programs, many of these policies hurt young people. Obamacare forces us to buy insurance, whether or not we need it or can afford it. The young and healthy are being forced to enter the market to subsidize the old and sick.

The Man is telling us what to do.

Ryan says, “The progressive movement and ideology is a repressive, big-brother movement that drains you of your freedom and liberty, and therefore of your prosperity... The government is taking away your discretion, taking away your choices.”

And taking away our money.

The interest of the debt alone will be $5,800 per taxpayer in 2020. As it gets harder and harder for the government to sell its debt, this cash will increasingly come out of my generation’s paychecks.

Where do we turn?

The problem is, as young people figure this out, they don’t know where to turn. In the last ten years, both parties centralized power and governed with gigantic deficits. Even Ryan, who served during the Bush administration, admitted the “[Republican] leadership was not focused on limited government.”

Under a Republican president, we squandered a balanced budget in favor of No Child Left Behind, two wars, Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit for seniors), and the Wall Street bailout – all significant expansions of government.

Ryan proposes to shrink government with real spending cuts and a direct path to balancing the budget, rebuilding trust in the Republican Party. While some of the GOP leadership still cower away from the toughest issues, the Roadmap tackles entitlement reform – the infamous third rail of politics.

Looking at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) numbers, it’s easy to see Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will consume the budget and cause unsustainable deficits, taking away our future financial liberty.

Roadmap offers real change

Sure, many Americans rely on these programs, but the beauty of the Roadmap is that it reforms these programs quickly enough to stop a Greek-style debt crisis, yet gently enough to fulfill the government’s promises to our most vulnerable. The plan maintains the same benefits for those over 55, while stopping the debt from growing to over 100 percent of GDP.

Young people voted to “change” Washington in 2008. The Roadmap can achieve this mission in 2010, but not with the Democratic majority’s vision for reckless over-spending. We need more than good speeches; we need good policy. Ryan’s Roadmap leads the way. Young people just need to follow. As Ryan told me, “It’s their future.”

Ron Meyer writes for Human Events and the Daily Caller. He is a senior at Principia College and hosts “We the People” Internet Radio Show.

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