Ryan Lizza’s prescient Paul Ryan article

Rep. Paul Ryan’s ‘path to (personal) prosperity’?

In hindsight, it seems elementary that Paul Ryan would capture the Republican presidential ticket. He’s already captured the party.

A clip from Ryan Lizza’s now very prescient article in this month’s New Yorker:

Ryan won his seat in 1998, at the age of twenty-eight. Like many young conservatives, he is embarrassed by the Bush years. At the time, as a junior member with little clout, Ryan was a reliable Republican vote for policies that were key in causing enormous federal budget deficits: sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, the multibillion-dollar bank-bailout legislation known as TARP. In all, five trillion dollars was added to the national debt. In 2006 and 2008, many of Ryan’s older Republican colleagues were thrown out of office as a result of lobbying scandals and overspending. Ryan told me recently that, as a fiscal conservative, he was “miserable during the last majority” and is determined “to do everything I can to make sure I don’t feel that misery again.”

In 2009, Ryan was striving to reintroduce himself as someone true to his ideological roots and capable of reversing his party’s reputation for fiscal profligacy. A generation of Republican leaders was gone. Ryan had already jumped ahead of more senior colleagues to become the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, and it was his job to pick apart Obama’s tax and spending plans. At the table in his office, Ryan pointed out the gimmicks that Presidents use to hide costs and conceal policy details. He deconstructed Obama’s early health-care proposal and attacked his climate-change plan. Obama’s budget “makes our tax code much less competitive,” he said, as if reading from a script. “It makes it harder for businesses to survive in the global economy, for people to save for their own retirement, and it grows our debt tremendously.” He added, “It just takes the poor trajectory our country’s fiscal state is on and exacerbates it.”

As much as he relished the battle against Obama—“European,” he repeated, with some gusto—his real fight was for the ideological identity of the Republican Party, and with colleagues who were content to simply criticize the White House. “If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose,” he told me. A fault line divided the older and more cautious Republican leaders from the younger, more ideological members. Ryan was, and remains, the leader of the attack-and-propose faction.

…Ryan’s long-range plan was straightforward: to create a detailed alternative to Obama’s budget and persuade his party to embrace it. He would start in 2009 and 2010 with House Republicans, the most conservative bloc in the Party. Then, in the months before the Presidential primaries, he would focus on the G.O.P. candidates. If the plan worked, by the fall of 2012 Obama’s opponent would be running on Paul Ryan’s ideas, and in 2013 a new Republican President would be signing them into law.

Sitting in his office more than three years ago, Ryan could not have foreseen how successful his crusade to reinvent the Republican Party would be. Nearly every important conservative opinion-maker and think tank has rallied around his policies. Nearly every Republican in the House and the Senate has voted in favor of some version of his budget plan. Earlier this year, the G.O.P. Presidential candidates lavished praise on Ryan and his ideas. “I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan,” Mitt Romney said on March 20th, in Chicago. The following week, while campaigning in Wisconsin, he added, “I think it’d be marvellous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and adopt it and pass it along to the President.” …

And now, Mr. Romney will spend the next nearly 90 days selling Paul Ryan’s ideas to America, and vowing to be little more than the holder of the working digits that sign the Ryan budget into law, just like Grover Norquist said.

Oh, and one more thing: Ryan was one of the principal drivers — if not THE driver — behind George W. Bush’s second term plan to privatize Social Security. Again clipping Lizza:

For decades, policy wonks on the Republican fringes had talked about turning Social Security, the government safety-net program for retirees, into a system of private investment accounts. The architect of the movement was Peter Ferrara, a former Harvard Law School student, who, calling it “the craziest idea in the world,” sold it, in 1979, to the small-government fundamentalists at the Cato Institute. (Ferrara is now at the Heartland Institute, best known for its denial of climate change.) They evangelized on behalf of the idea for more than two decades, before pushing it into mainstream Republican politics. Bush was the first Republican Presidential nominee to embrace the idea, but it wasn’t a priority in his first term, which was dominated by the response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq.

Ryan and other conservative leaders, among them Senator John Sununu, of New Hampshire, wanted to be sure that Bush returned to the plan in 2005. Under Ryan’s initial version, American workers would be able to invest about half of their payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, in private accounts. As a plan to reduce government debt, it made no sense. It simply took money from one part of the budget and spent it on private accounts, at a cost of two trillion dollars in transition expenses. But, as an ideological statement about the proper relationship between individuals and the federal government, Ryan’s plan was clear.

The release of the Social Security proposal was a turning point in Ryan’s career. Bush could have chosen to push a bipartisan idea, such as immigration reform, as the first domestic proposal of his second term. But, during the 2004 campaign, Ryan, with such allies as Kemp and Ferrara, kept up pressure from the right to force the White House to make a decision on Social Security. Many Republicans were still wary. Two weeks after Bush’s Inauguration, Ryan gave a speech at Cato asserting that Social Security was no longer the third rail of American politics. He toured his district with a PowerPoint presentation and invited news crews to document how Republicans could challenge Democrats on a sacrosanct policy issue and live to tell about it. …

Of course, the plan was swiftly killed dead in the United States congress, and Bush had spent up that “political capital” he bragged about after squeaking out a second term. He would later express regret for pursuing even the more watered down version of the Ryan plan that he did.

Read the whole New Yorker article here.

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