Rick Santorum today gently criticized House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s latest budget effort — but at least it was from the right rather than the left as was Newt Gingrich’s “right-wing social engineering” criticism last year:

“He’s put forward a great blueprint for people to campaign upon and shows clearly progress dramatic progress in the direction of shrinking the size of government, and liberating the economy through lower taxes and less regulations,” he told Beck.

But of entitlement reform, Santorum said, “we need to move forward quicker” and he called for faster spending cuts.

Santorum was the only one of the presidential candidates not to release a statement about Ryan’s budget on Tuesday. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney quickly embraced the plan in a statement and comments to reporters, as did former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Santorum’s more muted response may be connected to tricky politics in the House. Ryan’s budget faces a key vote on the Budget Committee he chairs on Wednesday. With Democrats unified in opposition, he can afford only two Republican defections or see an embarrassing defeat for what is designed to be the GOP’s leading election year campaign statement.

Santorum has the luxury to call for larger cuts because he’s not in office right now — and he’s to be commended for doing so. We who have no political cost to count should keep up the drumbeat for the deepest deficit reduction we can muster. Unless we continue to demand a balanced budget and the elimination of the debt, it’s never going to happen.

It’s one thing to call for deeper spending cuts on the campaign trail, though. It’s another to profess Ryan’s budget “not good enough” from within the walls of Congress. It is disappointing that House Budget Republicans aren’t planning to offer a balanced budget — and I sympathize with conservative Republicans who are disappointed that Ryan’s budget doesn’t do even more to tame the debt and deficit. The Daily Caller’s Neil Patel argued before the Ryan plan was unveiled that Republicans should either offer a balanced budget or retire and give folks who would be willing to offer a BB a chance to serve in office — and I tended to agree with him.

At this point, though, Ryan has revealed his plan — and opposing it does nothing to move the ball forward on entitlement reform. Avik Roy writes:

At a Tuesday panel hosted by the Heritage Foundation, Representative Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.) said, of the new Ryan plan for entitlement reform, “I will be voting no. It’s not good enough.” Huelskamp is a member of the House Budget Committee; Ryan can only afford two other defectors if the budget is to make it out of the committee. “Its just another promise that I’m afraid will be broken,” said Huelskamp. “It’s not the big leap America so desperately needs.”

His out-front statement is giving cover, ironically, to more querulous Republicans, who don’t want to put themselves out there as favoring bold entitlement reform, but can now claim that the Ryan budget isn’t “good enough” as a way of symbolically maintaining their conservative bona fides.

Huelskamp cannot plausibly believe that Republicans will unite around a more aggressive deficit-reduction proposal — and, more importantly, that such a proposal could pass even a Republican-controlled Senate. Hence, what Huelskamp is likely to achieve is the opposite of what he claims he intends: the destruction of any meaningful effort to reform our health-care entitlements. And it is health-care entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, which are almost entirely responsible for the growth in the government’s share of our economy.

That even Paul Ryan’s Budget Committee doesn’t yet feel emboldened by the support of the electorate to offer a balanced budget suggests we still have work to do on altering the composition of Congress — not just in terms of replacing Democrats with Republicans, but in terms of replacing timid Republicans with bold Republicans. Ryan is one of the boldest — but he can’t do it alone. As Congress becomes increasingly conservative, Ryan will offer increasingly conservative solutions. I’m convinced of it. For now, he’s doing the best he can with what he has.