Paul Ryan

Mitt Romney has selected House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate, a pick that has both a lot of upside potential, in that Ryan is uniquely able to bridge the gap between the establishment and the tea-party wings of the Republican party, and a lot of downside potential, in that his name is synonymous with a budget plan that polls very poorly.  My view is that the choice of Ryan justifies Romney’s own candidacy–before the announcement, the electorate viewed him as an implementation specialist: give him a plan, a set of goals, and he will make it happen.  Now he has the other half–not in Ryan’s plan, which Romney does not want to adopt in full–but in Ryan himself.  It’s a bit backwards–in a sense, Romney’s job is auxiliary to Ryan’s–but my view is that the selection tells voters “here, this is why you Republicans were right to pick Romney.”  Early reports seem to show that rally attendees are energized but that this energy hasn’t necessarily made it to voters.

Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor and leading neoconservative who single-handedly convinced the McCain campaign to choose Palin in 2008, and Dick Cheney, who recently criticized that pick, were both on target this time.  Kevin Drum says that Ryan represents one of the most ideological VP nominees in recent history, and E. J. Dionne makes the case that this is evidence of a shift from Democrats to Republicans as the party of theory over practical results.  Politico has good introductions to the person and the plan that are Paul Ryan, as well as to the effects of the pick on the race in each swing state and on the congressional races and an interesting look at the process by which he was selected and the means by which that selection was kept secret.  Among liberal pundits, though, the undisputed Ryan expert is Jonathan Chait, whose April profile (don’t make this guy’s mistake!) is a must-read.  More recently, Chait has quoted a story which explains that the Ryan plan is in a certain sense literally unbelievable, described the non-Medicare aspects of the plan, dug into the intellectual foundations of his policy views, and noted that Ryan has played a role in the failure of all three major budget compromise proposals of the past few years.

The difference between Paul Ryan and Barack Obama on Medicare reform is substantial, but voter perceptions–Paul Ryan wants to dramatically cut Medicare payments; Obama wants to preserve the current system–are off the mark.  Both the most recent Ryan plan and the Obama budget (p. 13) target a path for total Medicare spending, but as Paul Ryan explains:

The President has repeatedly proposed empowering IPAB [Independent Payment Advisory Board–they don’t cut Medicare on their own, but rather submit cost-cutting proposals to Congress] to hold Medicare growth to the same growth rate [GDP growth + 0.5%]. The difference is that this budget proposes to use competition to control costs, while IPAB under the President’s proposals would use bureaucratic benefit restrictions (i.e., “value-based benefit design”) to contain Medicare’s growth to below GDP plus o.5 percent.

Both budgets cut Medicare, and both budgets cut Medicare by exactly the same amount.  The difference is in precisely how they go about it, where their policy ideas come from (Obama’s projections of cost savings come out of the contemporary academic health policy world while Ryan’s have their origins in a paper from 1978), and who picks up the difference if the cost cuts turn out to be less than forthcoming (Ryan’s plan shifts costs directly onto seniors, while Obama’s cap is a target that is enforced only through congressional action on the advice of IPAB).

As far as the rest of the plan goes, the CBO’s long-term budgetary impact calculations show that it would force total discretionary spending below 4% of GDP in 2050 (ignoring the fact that policies that far off are irrelevant and more or less assume no Democratic president for 40 years).  This contradicts Romney’s promise to keep defense spending permanently above 4% of GDP even if you zero out all non-defense discretionary spending. The plan would also force total Medicaid spending in 2050 to half of what it is at present and a quarter of what would be necessary to provide the same Medicaid coverage we do now.  The jobs impact of the overall plan is comically uncertain, at least if you believe the think tanks–the conservative Heritage Foundation claims that it will create 1.3 million jobs while the labor-allied Economic Policy Institute claims it will lead to the loss of 4.1 million, and both assert that their analyses are based on “standard” macroeconomic models.

Ryan’s views on non-Ryan-Plan issues have not received as much press, but they are certain to contribute to the electorate’s perception of him in the months to come–and to the direction which a Romney-Ryan administration would take if elected.  They’re summed up well here and here (one key takeaway: he’s even more socially conservative than Romney), but it’s better to hear them from Ryan himself.  In a 2008 WSJ op-ed, Ryan wrote that he opposed the Fed’s so-called “dual mandate”–i.e., that he believed that the Federal Reserve should focus exclusively on providing the economy with stable prices and low inflation without also aiming to keep unemployment low.  In 2011, he gave a speech to the Hamilton Society which, if nothing else, displays a much deeper understanding of foreign policy questions than is evidenced by Romney.  He may come to similar conclusions in the end, but I have much more trust in his foreign policy judgment and his ability to understand and interact successfully with foreign leaders who are not Bibi Netanyahu.

Lastly, Paul Ryan has at times indicated that he’s a fan of Ayn Rand, although he now says his philosophy is closer to…Thomism.  Dave Weigel attempts to use Rand quotes to ferret out what effect that might have on Ryan’s monetary policy.  And, in a story I couldn’t really fit anywhere else, Ryan’s bills have only been passed by Congress twice.

I’ll be back to the hodgepodge posts soon.