The deadline for the 2012 budget is near, and for all the talk of "sacred cows" like defense spending and social security, proposals to float a balanced budget and establish a debt ceiling, the broad discussions sound a bit like a circular conversation with no way out.

Unless you're Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. According to The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, Ryan's proposal on the matter is a rare, honest accounting of what it would take to reverse the slide into trillion-dollar deficits. Klein notes that while the Congressional Budget Office has the US on track to having deficits eat up 42 percent of GDP by 2080, Ryan's take would tip the US into having a 5 percent surplus.

But, Klein warns, reaching Ryan's 5 percent surplus requires a stomach of steel. His plan "proposes reforms that are nothing short of violent."  Among the components: privatizing Medicaid, giving seniors a health care stipend that doesn't keep pace with health care costs, and guaranteeing Social Security.

Yet Ryan is open, Klein notes, about what such changes mean: uncertainty for seniors and "higher premiums in the private market for a package of benefits similar to that currently provided by Medicare."

Ryan would save the government money by shifting the burden to individuals. Right now, individuals are feeling pain, but not the full cost of what it would mean should the federal government bear down and cut costs. It is rationing, Klein says, and Ryan is fearless in broaching it:

Consider the fury that Republicans turned on Democrats for the insignificant cuts to Medicare that were contained in the health-care reform bill, or the way Bill Clinton gutted Newt Gingrich for proposing far smaller cuts to the program's spending. This proposal would take Medicare from costing an expected 14.3 percent of GDP in 2080 to less than 4 percent. That's trillions of dollars that's not going to health care for seniors. The audacity is breathtaking.

Whether readers agree with Ryan's approach or not, Klein (whose preference would be to reform the system "so the care becomes cheaper") thinks Ryan deserves some credit because "his proposal is among the few I've seen that's willing to propose solutions in proportion to the problem." Coming from one who leans pretty consistently left, that's a gold star.