Rob Douglas: A serious debate for serious times |

Rob Douglas: A serious debate for serious times

Rob Douglas

Tuesday's edition of the Steamboat Today contained the commentary "An unserious man" by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. The piece was Krugman's latest effort to discredit vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's ideas about how to confront our nation's economic woes.

Based on events in Steamboat Springs this week, Krugman's repeated attempts to paint Ryan as "unserious" are failing. In fact, a debate that will take up the Ryan budget at the Steamboat Institute's fourth annual Freedom Conference today — quickly following on the heels of a presentation about the intractable problems contained in the federal budget by the Wall Street Journal's David Wessel at the Seminars at Steamboat 10th anniversary dinner Monday — will showcase that Americans of all political stripes are interested in the federal budget and that Ryan's plan is worthy of serious discussion.

Today's debate, "Our Economic Roadmap — Which Direction Shall We Take?" will pit libertarian Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, against progressive William Black, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I have the privilege of being the debate moderator and will present Mitchell and Black with just two questions: Would the Ryan budget set the United States on the road to economic recovery? What is the proper role of the federal government?

If anyone thinks the debate deck is stacked in Romney and Ryan's favor, they'd be wrong.

Black, who was featured prominently in Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" and is the author of "The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One," has been scathing in his criticism of Ryan. As a contributor to the blog "New Economic Perspectives," Black has called the Ryan plan "a transparent abuse premised on self-serving fantasy numbers and deliberate disrespect for the truth."

And while Mitchell recently stated in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "thanks to Rep. Paul Ryan and the fiscal blueprint he prepared as chairman of the House Budget Committee earlier this year, the GOP has begun climbing back on the wagon of fiscal sobriety and has shown at least some willingness to restrain the growth of government," Mitchell is no fan of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Mitchell frequently opines on his blog "International Liberty" that Romney is another big government Republican and not a true champion of free enterprise.

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No matter who prevails as the best verbal pugilist at The Steamboat Grand today, our nation's economic future should be the paramount issue in this year's election, no matter how hard some in the media try to divert attention to lesser matters. It is time to take stock of where we are as a nation and decide how we will tackle unsustainable deficits and monstrous debts that are limiting our economic freedom.

Tens of millions of our neighbors are out of work or under-employed. More than

15 million Americans are upside-down on their home mortgage. More than 50 percent of American households now are dependent on a welfare check from the government. In its biannual report this week, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that for the fourth consecutive year the federal budget deficit will top $1.1 trillion, with the national debt cresting $16 trillion. Most troubling of all, unfunded liabilities — federal promises to currently living Americans, including Social Security and Medicare — total more than $120 trillion by some estimates.

Given our current fiscal reality, we must cast aside those who seek to squash debate for partisan reasons and focus on the choices that now are before us with less than three months before the election. Polls show that a majority of Americans have an opinion of President Barak Obama's economic track record while many Americans are just beginning to seriously assess Romney.

The most consequential decision a presidential nominee makes is the selection of his running mate. Americans owe it to themselves to take the time to learn for themselves whether Romney's belief that Ryan is a serious man with serious ideas that can benefit our nation is accurate. Put another way, was Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of President Obama's budget deficit commission, correct when he said of Ryan, "he is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere. And the budget he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget?"

Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email

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