Mitt Romney has made his pick for Vice President. By choosing Paul Ryan, Romney has made perhaps the clearest indication yet of what kind of campaign he wishes to wage. More importantly, the pick of the Wisconsin Congressman and House Budget Chairman demonstrates the dominate issue of what would be a Romney Presidency. By doing so, the choice illustrates perhaps the starkest contrast in philosophy of governance since the 1980 or perhaps even the 1964 elections.
Paul Ryan’s brand is all about budgets. Specifically, he is the Republican most leading the discussion of entitlement reform. Often considered a “third rail” in politics as an issue that will kill anyone who touches it, the ability to curb entitlement costs – items such as Medicare and Social Security – are critical if the U.S. budget is to return to any expectation of balance within the next two generations.
Republicans and Democrats alike have generally given lip service to fiscal responsibility in the form of deficit reduction. The truth of the matter is that neither has a record to match their rhetoric. The only time in recent history a budget surplus has occurred was when Republicans controlled the House and Democrats controlled the Presidency. Gridlock in D.C. combined with a booming economy likely did as much as either side’s policy initiatives in getting the budget balanced.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress used Continuing Resolutions and votes on increasing the debt ceiling over the past two years to grandstand on the issue of deficit reduction. Yet the Democrats who continue to campaign on the insistence that the “Bush” tax cuts be repealed continue to re-authorize them, and have even cut payroll taxes as well to stimulate the economy.
Republicans, meanwhile, forced a deal that would result in dramatic cuts to defense and other domestic programs at the end of this year if alternative spending reductions could not be found. They’re still pretending to look, but they’re looking harder at ways to leave defense spending at current levels without anyone reminding them of this pesky agreement which they originated.
For there to be true deficit reduction, there will have to be leadership at the Presidential level. This will have to be coupled with the will of the voters, who will have to insist to their individual members of Congress that they must get serious about the problem.
By picking Ryan, this opportunity and danger now lies squarely in the hands of the Republican ticket.
This is the debate and policy argument that many rank and file Republicans have wanted for decades. How can programs at the federal level be reduced to fit within the means of the taxes generated to pay for them. Entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, and VA benefits) plus interest on the debt now account for all revenues collected by the federal government. Virtually all discretionary spending including defense spending is borrowed.
A close look at failing European nations shows where we are headed. Intellectually we know this, and know something must be done to match spending and revenues.
And yet, when we also look at how Europe is handling this, we see that the intellectual argument is not what often wins. Greece, specifically, faces economic ruin if they don’t adopt drastic reforms. The people of Greece know this. Yet every time there is an election, the slate of candidates offering austerity and tough love lose, pushing the country ever closer to insolvency.
Such is the parallel for our Presidential election. Ryan’s budget plan doesn’t balance the federal budget for 23 years, yet is labeled draconian by many opponents. The Democrats instead offer promises that the federal government can spend even more, and that someone else will pay for it.
Intellectually we all know that offers of something for nothing are too good to be true. It is easily demonstrated that “asking the 1% to pay just a little more” won’t balance the budget. In fact, confiscating the entire wealth of the 1% would only balance the budget for one year, with nothing left to produce for the second and subsequent years of trillion dollar plus deficits.
Yet buying the argument of keeping the status quo and trying to make someone else pay is the easiest decision for a voter. Romney and Ryan will be asking for sacrifices. Entitlement reform will involve middle class reductions in future benefits and/or upper income retirees paying more for Medicare while possibly receiving less in social security in the future. That’s a tougher sell.
While the debate is the one Republicans have wanted to have, they had best not underestimate the uphill battle that faces them when rhetoric meets reality. While independent voters may know that reforms are needed, getting them to actually vote for reform is a much different proposition.
<em>Charlie Harper is the Atlanta based Editor of PeachPundit.com, a conservative-leaning political website. He is also a columnist for Dublin Georgia based Courier Herald Publishing.</em>