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December 2015

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Social Security and Medicare — Big Changes, Little Tweaks or...?

Washington Watch


New House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., says he plans to pursue a “bold alternative agenda” that would include major revisions in entitlements.


Ryan, who as Speaker of the House becomes the person directly behind the vice president in line to the presidency, is now in a much better position to deliver on his ambitious plans – overhauling the tax code, slashing federal spending and rewriting the social contracts for Medicare and Social Security.


For years, Ryan has pushed proposals that would privatize parts of Social Security, cut Medicaid and convert Medicare to a voucher-based program, in which private insurance would be purchased with federal subsidies.


But as the leader of the House of Representatives, Ryan finds himself with an interesting dilemma. Will his new power and position provide a platform for his vision or will those big ideas weigh him down in a political climate of conflict and partisan rancor?


If recent experience under former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is any indicator, Ryan may have to keep his expansive aspirations quiet and instead focus on more modest goals. As speaker he needs to appease his mainstream Republicans, not displease his hard line conservative faction, while also keeping enough votes to keep the Democrats in check. As budget chairman, Ryan was able to cut some modestly successful deals, but never was able to impose his bigger vision and turn it into law.


Ryan, 45, is the youngest person to serve as house speaker in nearly 150 years. He was elected, in 1998, at age 28. But he is a somewhat accidental traveler in the corridors of power. He is much more passionate about working through the policy issues than he is about dealing with politics.


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I’m Beginning to Look a Lot like a Christmas Tree

Social Insecurity


Well, the big-three holiday stretch is upon us and time to form a strategy to prevent it from causing us to stretch out too much. One researcher reported that the average American adds one pound to his or her body weight during the holidays. How on earth did they arrive at that minuscule number? Did the poll include skeletons in the grave? Did they only survey ultra-marathon runners? People I speak to say that they add at least five pounds, and that is just from looking at the holiday recipes and accompanying photos in the newspaper.


Just as the holiday shopping season kicks off earlier each year, so does the calorie-loading season. It starts several weeks prior to Halloween. Oh, it’s very subtle at first, to be sure. Innocently enough, the wife picks up a few bags of “bite size” candy bars and slyly hides them in the cupboard right behind the corroded gallon jar of wheat germ which you had planned to add to a five-pound bag of oatmeal, which also has long ago rotted.


But, of course, it isn’t long, say five minutes, before the kids uncover the secret hideaway and begin to pilfer tiny bar after bar, leaving a telltale tinfoil trail. So, of course, Dad has to step in and cut off the gravy train, only to make a mental note of the location and soon undertake his own stealthy sugar heist.


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