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A Word in Defense of Paul Ryan

Arguing that any judgment of the virtues of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan must take place in the universe of the possible, Ross Douthat kindly links to my post on the Romney-Ryan strategy of deflecting attacks on Medicare reform.

To the extent that Ryan lacks boldness, Douthat writes, it’s more a function of his colleagues’ timidity than his own:

[I]n fact, the Medicare reform proposal that Ryan co-authored last year with Alice Rivlin, an Office of Management and Budget director under Bill Clinton, does include ‘a cost-sharing mechanism that would start in 2013,’ and that would save $110 billion over the decade before premium support is phased in. So he is on the record supporting immediate cuts; he just hasn’t persuaded his fellow Republicans to join him.

I think Douthat is right about this. As the last line in my post indicated, my beef is primarily with Romney, not Ryan; by promising to restore Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare providers, Romney is trying to have Paul Ryan’s cake and eat it, too.

Listen: I think Ryan is one of the good guys in Washington. My wife knew him when he was Capitol Hill staffer; we’re on his Christmas card list, and our band has performed at fundraisers for him. When it’s pointed out that Ryan wasn’t an ur-Tea Partier, I say that’s to his credit; after 2010, he had to disabuse many House freshmen of their fantasy that the budget can be balanced simply by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

I don’t have a problem with the concept of premium support. In fact, I’ve written that it’s likely that in the future we’re all going to be under an “Orydencare” system — a “mixed bag of subsidies, private insurance, and regulated exchanges.” I have doubts about how much competitive bidding will hold down prices, but that aspect of the system can be tweaked as necessary.

My problem with Ryan isn’t on the entitlement reform side; it’s on the revenue side. His assumption that another round of supply-side tax cuts will spark growth and unleash pent-up consumer demand strikes me as just as wooly-headed as the Tea Party freshmen’s knowledge of the federal budget.

And it’s this outmoded Kemp-ism that undermines his best idea, i.e., premium support. If Ryan and the GOP would have agreed to a sensible compromise on new revenue — which can be accomplished without the higher marginal tax rates that Obama calls for — then a deal on Medicare would have been far more likely.

Indeed, if there is a Romney administration, this is exactly the kind of deal that will be struck if Republicans have any prayer of attracting Democrats.

But we could have broken the seal on this two years ago — and averted a lot of unfortunate nonsense in the meantime.

about the author

Scott Galupo is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va. In addition to contributing to The American Conservative, he writes for TheWeek.com and reviews live music for The Washington Post. He was formerly a staff writer for The Washington Times and worked on Capitol Hill. He lives with his wife and two children and writes about politics to support his guitar habit.

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