Janesville’s Ryan remains national election winner
While the Republican ticket of Romney-Ryan was defeated in Tuesday’s election, Paul Ryan may still prove to be a political winner. After re-election to his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, despite a relatively strong Democratic challenger, he is well positioned to be a leader in the impending Washington tax and spending battles.
Ryan has made headlines and sparked debate with dramatic proposals for comprehensive budget reform. His measures focus heavily on health care. Ironically, the hostility generated may strengthen his hand in trying to avoid the dreaded “fiscal cliff,” which early next year would bring draconian budget cuts.
Democrats charge he wants to abandon the poor, evict the sick and pull that plug supporting Grandma. Republicans rejoin that the plan is essential to avoid bankruptcy.
The GOP argument may have mobilized the conservative party base, but earlier statements about Obama administration health care reforms hurt credibility. Sarah Palin, relentlessly crisscrossing the country in 2010 campaigning for right-wing tea party candidates, regularly raised the specter of “Democrat death panels” that would terminate the elderly.
With this background, Ryan’s serious approach could be persuasive, especially if he is willing to be flexible. To criticism that proposed cuts are harsh and insensitive, the Republicans can reply: What is your alternative?
The Democratic left wing in Congress has frustrated party efforts to hammer out detailed alternatives to Ryan’s proposals. President Obama ignored the proposals of his own Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission and largely abdicated leadership regarding Congress.
More generally, Republican emphasis on “supply-side economics” can aid deficit reduction efforts. The U.S. economy has doubled in nominal value every decade since 1940, the most remarkable growth record in world history.
Relative growth has been slower over the past decade and a half, but recovery from severe recession is also under way. Even limited economic recovery will increase revenue, providing breathing room to negotiate agreement and avoid the feared fiscal cliff.
During World War II, U.S. debt levels were higher than today, yet we paid down the burden. Ryan suggests that era was different because we owed “ourselves,” not foreigners, but earlier conservative William F. Buckley Jr. condemned this argument as rationalization—debt and the welfare state were always bad.
Ryan demonstrates that conservatives have accepted a more active role for government in providing social services. The argument is about means, not ends.
Over the coming weeks, Paul Ryan can position himself well to be the 2016 or 2020 Republican presidential nominee, or the next speaker of the House of Representatives. Demonstrating serious bipartisanship, however, will be crucial.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen distinguished professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.