A Further Perspective

Paul Ryan’s Friends

The more the merrier -- and he needs lots more.

By 8.16.10

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Most conservative commentators, pundits and writers, including some affiliated with TAS, have been stalwart supporters of the remarkable Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his consequential "A Roadmap for America's Future," which aims to reform entitlements, most notably Medicare, the tax code and control health care costs all in the quest for fiscal sanity.

More remarkable is the recent defense of the Wisconsin Congressman by folks such as Megan McCardle of the Atlantic against the ad hominem attacks of Paul Krugman of the New York Times that Ryan was some kind of "Flimflam Man." McCardle has doubts about the "Roadmap," but they go to political feasibility, not its internal consistency and economic soundness.

Krugman's rant also generated another defense from Joseph Rosenberg of the Tax Policy Center at the liberal, very establishmentarian, Urban Institute and Brookings Institute.

This is encouraging. Paul Ryan will need all the friends he can make.

The amount of flack being directed at Ryan and his "Roadmap" has been rapidly increasing. Former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who should know better, trashed the Ryan plan in his farewell lecture at Brookings. This from the man who, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, "presided over record deficits of $1.4 trillion in 2009-or 9.9% of GDP-and an expected $1.5 trillion in 2010." Cheeky fellow.

Jon Ward of the Daily Caller observed that this high-profile critique of Ryan "shows the seriousness with which Obama and his top advisers take Ryan's alternative vision for the country's future, as well as the vehemence with which they disagree." Ward mentioned that the Orszag attack was the same day the Democratic National Committee attacked the "Roadmap."

The Wall Street Journal also highlighted the recent attack by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee directed at "NINE REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATES WHO WANT TO END MEDICARE AS WE KNOW IT." The basis of this charge was "lukewarm-to-friendly comments these heretics had at one time or another made about Mr. Ryan."

Americans United for Change, formerly Americans United to Protect Social Security, one of the "progressive" outfits who led opposition to any reform of Social Security several years ago, has recently announced a "Major Mobilization" against what it calls a "Roadmap to Ruin." It has staffed up in 10 battleground states as part of an effort with 65 other organizations, all which are OK with America's eventual economic collapse.

A glance at the Americans United website, reveals that they are already beating up on at least one Republican congressman and four GOP senatorial candidates for supporting the Ryan plan. While that was distressing, I found myself pleasantly surprised that there were actually Republican candidates on board for the "Roadmap."

In other words, other than the 12 co-sponsors of Paul Ryan's legislation, and a few senatorial candidates, most of the Congressman's support comes from columnists, pundits, and assorted right-of-center commentators. That, at least, has been my impression. In fact, most of the discussion about budgets and deficits, even from Republicans, does not focus on the looming Death Star of entitlements, especially Medicare, as I have been wont to call the crisis now upon us.

You can live with enemies in politics, but you can't survive without friends. Ryan needs more than intellectual or moral support from conservative intellectuals, commentators, and even honest liberals, as important as they are. He and his "Roadmap" need the heartfelt support of his party, its leaders and its candidates across the country who must take the argument to the people in this watershed election year.

The stakes are too high for the Republicans to simply stand by, quietly, hoping the Democrats will self-immolate. The GOP needs to embrace a big, visionary idea, something like Ryan's "Roadmap," which addresses the most important political challenge of the age: the runaway costs of entitlements which were irresponsibly put on autopilot under both Democratic and Republican governments.

Ideas, good or bad, have consequences. If there is to be regime change in Washington, the new one better have prepared the ground with a clear articulation of its plans, no matter how politically daunting the prospect, thereby creating legitimacy for those plans through electoral victory. The nation can afford nothing less. Otherwise, it will amount to just "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss."

This is not to say that the GOP needs to accept every jot or tittle of the "Roadmap." But it very much needs to engage, substantively, the same issues as Paul Ryan has, heroically in my opinion, in terms of the long-run sustainability of America's fiscal and economic condition. The "Roadmap" should be the Republicans' point of departure for what must be a serious conversation with the American people.

"Put simply, Medicare is on course to collapse," wrote Congressman Ryan last week in the Washington Post. "Medicare and interest on the national debt will soon overwhelm the federal budget, crowding out all other national priorities."

"We do not have a choice as to whether Medicare will change from its current structure," says Paul Ryan. "It is being driven to insolvency."

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.