With Ryan, Romney Makes Election Ideological Contest

November’s election can be a debate on just how much government Americans want.

Republican congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin delivers a news conference in Washington DC, April 5, 2011
Republican congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin delivers a news conference in Washington DC, April 5, 2011 (Republican Conference)

At a press conference in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday, Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that Paul Ryan would be his choice for the vice presidency. With the Wisconsin congressman’s name on the Republican ticket, November’s presidential election will truly be one of contesting ideologies.

Ryan rose to national fame last year when he authored the Republican alternative budget for fiscal year 2012. It included more than $6 trillion in deficit reduction for the next ten years, $4.4 trillion more than President Barack Obama’s but largely achieved through spending cuts, not tax increases.

In his budget, Ryan also proposed to phase out Medicare, a federal program that finances health care for seniors, and replace it with “premium support” subsidies. In a speech at the Hudson Institute in 2009, he had explained his philosophy for what Democrats said was privatizing Medicare. “Rather than depending on government for your retirement and health security, I propose to empower people to become much more self dependent for such things in life.”

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that unless Medicare is reformed, it could go bankrupt before the end of the next decade. “Our goal is to repair the safety net,” Ryan told NBC’s Meet the Press in April of last year. He was demonized by Democrats at the time who insisted that his proposal dismantled Medicare even if it would not affect seniors currently enjoying benefits.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said that she would not “reduce the deficit or subsidize tax cuts for the rich on the backs of America’s seniors and working families.” The president lamented that the Ryan’s approach would leave seniors “at the mercy of the insurance industry.”

Before he announced his vice presidential pick, many political commentators observed that Romney would be associated with Ryan’s budget plan whoever he asked to be his running mate.

Democrats and Republicans both herald the former Massachusetts governor’s decision. Democrats, who want the 2012 election to be a vote on fairness; of the middle class versus an elusive “1 percent” that disproportionately takes advantage of tax breaks and exemptions, can point to Ryan’s plan as evidence that Republicans intend only to cut regulation, cut spending and cut taxes. Conservatives, for that very reason, are excited about his nomination.

“We have the most predictable economic crisis, a debt crisis, coming in the country and to ignore it is wrong,” Ryan said during an appearance on CBS News’ Face the Nation in March.

Ryan, moreover, seems better able than Romney to make the moral case for limited government and free-market capitalism. Americans, he told the Fox Business Network in March 2010, are increasingly “more worried about their material support from goverment than they are about their own liberties.” Legislators have convinced themselves that their job is not merely to equalize opportunity but to equalize the results of peoples’ lives. “The more we ask government to do for us,” he warned, “the more government can take from us.”

Right-wing voters are especially apprehensive about the president’s health reform law, one that forces Americans to buy health insurance. Mitt Romney implemented a similar plan in the state of Massachusetts when he was governor there. Ryan, however, was at the forefront of the fight against what Republicans dubbed “Obamacare,” criticizing it as another entitlement program that exacerbate the United States’ fiscal predicament.

In February, he accused the president of “ducking responsibility” for the nation’s grim fiscal outlook. His administration “isn’t even trying” to reduce the deficit, said Ryan.

For four consecutive years, the United States have run deficits over $1 trillion. The president’s most recent budget plan wouldn’t balance it for another decade. Ryan, probably better than any of Romney’s other potential running mates, knows the numbers and is able to articulate a conservative vision for government calmly and concisely. With his name on the ticket, November’s election could be a national debate on just how much government Americans want.

Later this month, the Republican Party is expected to formally nominate Romney as its presidential nominee at a convention in Tampa, Florida.

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