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August 02, 2010

Washington Post Profiles Paul Ryan And His "Roadmap"

I was originally going to pair this with the Pete Stark video but someone named "Ace" showed up and stole my thunder.

Let me just start by saying that as a practical matter, Stark is right. Slap the words "Under the authority granted to the Congress by the Constitution's Commerce Clause...." on just about any piece of legislation and the geniuses in black robes yawn and say OK.

The fact is, conservatives are fighting an up hill battle (to say the least) to get people to accept the idea that the federal government was never meant to be this large and intrusive. For almost 80 years leftwing programs have been heaped on top of the rather limited structure the Constitution actually provides for. Now this expansive view of government is considered the norm and limits on the expansion of federal reach are the exception.

While there may be few, if any, political or legal checks on the growth of the federal government we have reached the point Margaret Thatcher identified as a major problem for socialists...eventually they run out of other people's money.

That's the cue for Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap" for dealing with the nation's looming Death by Entitlement problem.

Instead, Ryan is running a campaign of a different sort, one his party has so far refused to adopt: He is determined to persuade colleagues to get serious about eliminating the national debt, even if it means openly broaching overhauls of Medicare and Social Security.

He speaks in apocalyptic terms, saying the debt is "completely unsustainable" and warning that "it will crash our economy." He urges fellow politicians, and voters, to stop pretending that this problem will go away on its own.

He administers his sermons with evangelical zeal. He will go anywhere and talk to anyone who will listen. When he is not writing op-eds and appearing on television, he can often be found speaking to liberal and conservative audiences alike about his "Roadmap for America's Future," a plan he says would fix the problem.

"Political people always tell their candidates to stay away from controversy," said Ryan, 40. "They say, 'Don't propose anything new or bold because the other side will use it against you.' "

While he does not name the "political people," they no doubt include many Republican colleagues, who, even as they praise Ryan for his doggedness, privately consider the Roadmap a path to electoral disaster. Unlike most politicians of either party, he doesn't speak generically about reducing spending, but he does acknowledge the very real cuts in popular programs that will be required to bring down the debt.

His ideas are provocative, to say the least. They include putting Medicare and Medicaid recipients in private insurance plans that could cost the government less but potentially offer fewer benefits; gradually raising the retirement age to 70; and reducing future Social Security benefits for wealthy retirees.

Of the 178 Republicans in the House, 13 have signed on with Ryan as co-sponsors.

The article is more gossipy than a hard look at his proposals but it does highlight a very real problem for him, his plan isn't very popular with a lot of Republicans running for office. No, the article doesn't name names or have any top GOP figures coming out against him, but in a world where action (or inaction) counts the fact that only 13 Republicans have co-sponsored his plan shows the lack of interest the GOP has in running on something other than "Democrats suck!".

On one level I don't think that's a very bad thing at this point. Even if the Republicans win the House and the Senate (still a long shot), it will be hard for them to really do anything with Obama in the White House. They won't have anything approaching 60 votes in the Senate, let alone a veto proof majority in either house. They'll just spend 2 years getting smacked down by Obama so that by the time '12 comes around Democrats will run on 'failed and extreme budget plans of the GOP' and some of that will stick (unfairly to be sure but life isn't fair).

Ryan, like Jack Kemp pitching tax cuts in the late 70's, will have to spend some time building the case for his course of action and slowly trying to change minds.

The challenge Ryan will have is he's selling something hard and unpopular...spending cuts. And not just any cuts but cuts in entitlements. Let's be honest, the liberals have won the war on things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.


It's amazing that Ryan's "Roadmap" seems to be the outer edge of what Republican thinking is. The problem for those looking to scale back government is that this doesn't really do it. Even if Republicans do a lot of heavy lifting to get this done, we're still left with an giant entitlement system in this country.

This isn't all on Ryan, his plan isn't supposed to be the answer to everything, he's trying to deal with the most dangerous thing we are facing...runaway entitlements but at least in '80 and '94 conservatives were promising to cut whole government departments. Sure, they couldn't deliver that and wound up expanding them but at least that was an option that some were fighting for. Where are the proposals to close down the Departments of Education and Energy? Scale back government regulation? Come on guys, throw us a bone and at least attack the NEA and PBS!

I get that's not going to be popular or even smart politics in a lot of places but someone in some safe seat should start talking about it. I also get that Democrats will seize on such plans and beat up moderate Republicans but if you want a mandate for something, you have to put it out there at some point. If you spring stuff on people after the election is over, well, you see what's happening to Democrats, including Obama, who pretended to be moderates and turned hard left after winning.

Maybe we'll hear about those in 2012 from the GOP presidential candidates. Don't laugh, it could happen.

It will be interesting to see how much more conservative and committed the next two classes of Republican legislators are to actually shrinking government. Will they be able to move the core of existing Republicans with them? Or will they play the safe, go along, get along, get reelected game?

I honestly would be in favor of the conservative bait and switch in '12 and pay the price in '14 if we got anywhere near the results the Democrats have gotten in the last year and a half. Somehow though, the Republicans never seem to pull the trigger.


Still, it's sad to think this is what conservatism might be reduced to...fighting with liberals to find a sustainable way to fund the welfare state. Amazingly, we may not even win that.

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posted by DrewM. at 01:04 PM

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