The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Choice of two futures

Adam Newman | Wednesday, August 22, 2012

During the summer, I wrote a profile about Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, before he was picked to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. Below is the profile. My next article will explain why Paul Ryan is not a good choice to be Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Even though I am a Democrat, I will admit that I have a great admiration for Republican Representative Paul Ryan (WI-1). Unlike most Republicans, he correctly identifies health care as the driver of the deficit, while many Republicans would make you think that it was foreign aid, food stamps and Nancy Pelosi’s jet. In 2008, Ryan proposed the “Roadmap”, a conservative approach to bring America’s fiscal house in order. For the past two years, as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, he has turned the Roadmap into a budget that changes spending and taxes to bring the budget into balance in the long term.

In each of his budgets, Ryan presents “the choice of two futures.” One “future” is the status quo, where the unsustainable increase in entitlement spending depresses growth and leads to a fiscal crisis similar to the one taking place in the Euro Zone. The other “future” is one with a smaller government and lower tax burden, leading to a robust economy and averting a debt crisis.

As you might expect, Democrats loathe the Ryan budget. Ryan would replace the traditional Medicare program with a voucher program (called “premium support”) that would give those currently under age 55 a set payment to buy health care insurance when they become eligible for Medicare at 65, with the payment growing at a rate considerably less than health care inflation. This would, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, raise overall health care costs for the average Medicare beneficiary. Ryan’s budget would also make deep cuts to non-defense discretionary spending (the portion of the budget that funds investments, social programs and government agencies,) leaving it to be approximately 0.75 percent of GDP by 2050. (Historically, it has been roughly four percent.) This would essentially starve the federal government of its regulatory powers, investments in education and infrastructure and social spending for the poor. Amidst these cuts, Ryan would lower tax rates for high-income earners. Even if Ryan eliminated tax expenditures, it would be more likely that the net effect would reduce the tax liability on high income earners and increase it for everyone else.

While I do have a tremendous amount of respect for Ryan, I still have many issues with him. While Ryan may promote himself as a fiscal conservative, his record does not reflect it. Ryan voted for the George W. Bush tax cuts, a Medicare prescription drug plan and two wars, all without finding a way to pay for them, leading to the major accumulation of debt during Bush’s presidency.

Moreover, Ryan tends to use language that teeters on demagoguery. He often references the works of Ayn Rand (“Atlas Shrugged”) and Friedrich von Hayek (“Road to Serfdom”). He also commonly describes President Obama’s initiatives using phrases like “government-centered,” “crony capitalism” and “class warfare.” These terms are disingenuous at best and lies at worst.

While Ryan may be good at offering his own bold proposals, he is very bad at being able to accept others. In 2010, he was one of three House Republicans appointed to the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission. The proposal the commission produced gave Ryan 70 percent of what he would have wanted in a deficit reduction plan: cuts in social programs, tax reform, changes to health care and trillions in deficit reduction. However, Ryan voted against the proposal, most likely because it raised tax revenue and cut defense spending, two issues on which Ryan could not compromise. Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator and co-chairman of the committee, recently reflected on the general unwillingness of politicians to compromise on “Fareed Zakaria GPS”: “If you want to be a purist, go somewhere on a mountaintop and praise the east or something. But if you want to be in politics, you learn to compromise. And you learn to compromise on the issue without compromising yourself. Show me a guy who won’t compromise and I’ll show you a guy with rock for brains.”

Paul Ryan has shown tremendous leadership by offering his choice of two futures. However, if Ryan refuses to compromise on his proposal, it will continue to be exactly what it is – a proposal – that is only worth the paper it is written on. Ryan is often cited as the smartest member of Congress due to his knowledge of the federal budget, but due to his embrace of purity over pragmatism and conservative ideology over compromise he is unknowingly leading America towards the “future” that he has dedicated his life to warning us about.

Adam Newman is a senior finance major. He can be reached at anewman3@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.