What is Paul Ryan’s biggest mistake, you might be wondering — and yes, we know! It’s hard to pick just one! But if, for some reason, we were going to try, would we pick Ryan’s sponsorship of a personhood amendment? Or maybe the Ryan Plan, which would turn Medicare into a voucher program? Or oh — what about saying that voting for the Iraq War gave him “more foreign policy experience than Obama”? No, stupid, it was none of those things, it was refusing to vote for the Simpsons-Bowles Proposal, as David Brooks explains to us in a column called “Ryan’s Biggest Mistake.”
A few years ago, President Obama established a debt commission that was led by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and had a group of eminences, including Representative Paul Ryan.
Yes. “Eminences” like Tom Coburn (R-Tenth Amendment) who wants to eliminate the Department of Education because it’s unconstitutional, or Mike Crapo (R-Koch Brothers) who has an entire page of his Senate website devoted to arguing (among other things) that solar flares and volcanoes have contributed to climate change. So yeah, sounds like a bunch of real geniuses.
When that commission came up with its proposal, some conservative Republicans, like Tom Coburn and Judd Gregg, voted yes, but Ryan voted no. This was a devastating blow. If Ryan and the other House Republicans had voted for the Simpson-Bowles proposal, it would have gone to Congress for up-or-down votes, regardless of how President Obama reacted. We would have had national action on debt reduction.
Sorry to interrupt again, but let us please note how Brooks refers to “some conservative Republicans” as if Ryan isn’t one of them. Let us also note how easy it is to prioritize a “national action on debt reduction” over, say, “national action on unemployment” or “national action on student loan debt” when you are a rich white guy who somehow managed to get a four million dollar house in exchange for typing columns and appearing on PBS once in awhile.
Ryan voted no for intellectually coherent reasons. He argued that the single biggest contributing factor to public debt is the unsustainable growth of Medicare. Yet the Simpson-Bowles plan did nothing to restructure Medicare, and it sidestepped health care issues generally. Ryan said that it was silly to come up with a debt-reduction proposal that didn’t fix the single biggest driver of the nation’s debt.
Did you ever think that you’d see the word “Ryan” in the same sentence as the term “intellectually coherent reasons”? Actually, we did, because we read David Brooks a lot. So the joke is kind of on us.
This is the sort of argument that makes a lot of sense in a think-tank auditorium. The problem was there were almost no Democrats who endorsed Ryan’s Medicare reform ideas. If Ryan was going to pinion debt reduction to Medicare reform, that meant there would be no debt reduction.
But Ryan had another way forward, noting: We’re going to have an election in 2012; the country will choose between two different visions; if we Republicans win, we’ll be able to reform Medicare our way and reduce the debt our way.
In other words, Ryan was willing to sacrifice the good for the sake of the ultimate.
Paul Ryan has a great campaign consciousness, and, when it comes to things like Medicare reform, I agree with him. But when he voted no on the Simpson-Bowles plan he missed the chance to show that he also has a governing consciousness. He missed the chance to do something good for the country, even if it wasn’t the best he or I would wish for.
Ah yes, something good for the country. For those of you unfamiliar with the Simpon-Bowles recommendations, they include reducing cost-of-living increases for current Olds, reducing Social Security payments to future Olds, raising the retirement age to 69, laying off more government workers, and charging more for participation in VA programs. See, it’s very important that we screw Poors, Olds, and Our Nation’s Heroes in order to bring down the deficit, which is suddenly a very pressing concern now that a Democrat is in the White House. So Ryan’s biggest mistake, apparently, is not voting for all of these things, because his refusal to vote on these things was premised on the idea that the GOP would eventually be able to destroy these programs anyway once they won in 2012. Here we were, thinking his biggest mistake was threatening to destroy Medicare in the first place, but we don’t have four million dollar houses, so what do we know.