One of the most interesting subdramas in the rise of the newly hyper-conservative GOP has been the role of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has regularly been praised by his colleagues for substantive brilliance, but whose substantive brilliance they have often given a wide berth.
Ryan, as you may recall, produced the only thing within shouting distance of a congressional GOP budget blueprint this last year, his “Road Map for America’s Future.” The praise it received on the 2010 campaign trail faded pretty steadily as Democrats promoted awareness of the fact that said Road Map contained pretty radical changes to Social Security and Medicare (particularly since fighting cuts in the latter program had become a major GOP talking point).
Now Ryan is back in the spotlight, partly because he’s been a member of the Bowles-Simpso deficit commission (and one who rejected the commission report on grounds that it ratified ObamaCare), and partly because the post-election afterglow has given him some standing to talk big about the willingness of his fellow Republicans to embrace big cuts in popular federal programs.
Brian Beutler of TPM documents Ryan’s return to prominence as follows:
“The third rail is not the third rail anymore,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the incoming House Budget chairman, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast roundtable with reporters yesterday. “The political weaponization of entitlement reform is no longer as potent as it used to be, and the best evidence is this last election.”
Ryan and several other influential Republicans have found new confidence in the idea that the public would support entitlement cuts. Several candidates, Ryan said, won elections in tough districts on policy platforms modeled after his controversial — and conservative — Roadmap for America’s Future would would privatize social security and turn Medicare into a voucher system….
When I asked incoming Speaker John Boehner at his press conference yesterday whether he shared Ryan’s view of the new political landscape, Boehner suggested that the tide really had turned.
“I do believe that the American people expect us to have an adult conversation with each other about the serious challenges that face our country,” he said. “When you look at the promises that us Baby Boomers have made to ourselves, it’s clear that our kids and grandkids can’t afford those promises. We have to have this conversation. We ought to do it respectfully, we ought to do it honestly. But it’s time to have the conversation, and I think the American people are expecting us to come forward with a conversation.”
Now there’s a big difference between “having a conversation” about doing something very unpopular, and proposing to do it, so if I were Ryan, I’d view Boehner’s statements of support as little more than a permission slip to become a mine canary. As House Republicans get closer to that fateful day when they have to draft a budget resolution, however, it will eventually become a matter of embracing Ryan’s blueprint, coming up with something else, or just deciding to cook the numbers dramatically, with or without the help of some sort of supply-side delusion that cutting taxes for wealthy “job creators” solves all problems.