Paul Ryan is not the answer.Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, has named Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his presumptive running mate. The New York Times immediately produced a headline calling Ryan "A Conservative Star With Roots in Small-Town America." While it's correct to point out that Ryan hails from the small community of Janesville, Wisconsin, the Times' definition of conservative--once indicating hardcore fiscal sanity and sensible foreign policy--has slid downhill remarkably and means a proponent of a slightly less intrusive government than the Democrat alternative. The Constitution that should guide all members of Congress has been relegated to the status of a revered relic, no longer of much importance to conservatives or liberals. If it were relied upon, America's suicidal fiscal madness would cease.
Except for his college years and time spent doing a few jobs in the nation's capital, 42-year-old Ryan has always resided in Janesville. He won his seat in Congress in 1998 and has never faced a serious challenge. He is now chairman of the House Budget Committee and, in March 2012, his multi-page "Path to Prosperity" outlining the GOP's ideas about federal spending became available. Supposedly a disciple of libertarians and old-style conservatives, Ryan claims as heroes the likes of Ayn Rand (he differs with her atheism), Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and others. But these no-nonsense opponents of big government would hardly stand with Ryan, even if the liberal media paints him as a villain. None of them would have championed much of what Ryan has stood behind.
The steadily rising (and admitted) national debt will reach $16 trillion before the November election. As horrific as it is, this admitted pool of red ink is dwarfed by unfunded obligations (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) that easily push an honest assessment of federal indebtedness beyond $100 trillion. Annual interest payments paid to those from whom the United States borrows continue to soar, and now total almost as much as the defense budget. Yet the budget produced by the supposedly hardline fiscal villain from Wisconsin would not reduce government spending in the absolute sense. Under his "Path to Prosperity" budget, annual federal outlays would continue to rise, albeit less than Obama's budget, from $3.6 trillion in fiscal 2012 to $4.9 trillion in fiscal 2022. Throughout this same time span, the federal government would incur annual deficits in the hundreds of billions of dollars every fiscal year--and those annual shortfalls would be added to the national debt, which would continue to climb.
The Ryan budget does promise trillions of dollars in spending and deficit "cuts" over the next 10 years--but those projected cuts are relative to the ever-higher deficit and spending levels in President Obama's budget. Is this really the "path to prosperity"? Can the country afford a climbing national debt until 2040, when according to the Congressional Budget Office a balanced budget would be achieved under the Ryan plan?
Cutting spending is impossible without cutting back on government programs. Ryan has occasionally voted against a federal program that ought to be abolished, the Export-Import Bank for example. And he'll regularly cast a negative vote about some expenditure that's relatively inconsequential.
Toward the end of 2008, when the Bush administration's economic team predicted a national economic cataclysm, Congress considered approving the $700 billion TARP measure. Already a rising budget guru, Ryan took to the floor of the House and begged his colleagues to support it. He even said that it "offends my principles but I'm going to vote for it"--which is exactly what he did. He then supported the bailout of General Motors. The fact that our nation still languishes in a recession/depression was predictable.
More recently, Ryan helped gain passage of the truly frightening National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As my colleague Jack Kenny has pointed out, the NDAA "allows the president to use the military to arrest suspected terrorists, including American citizens apprehended in the United States, and hold them indefinitely without trial." When an amendment seeking to remove some of NDAA's teeth came up for approval, Ryan voted "No." Evidently, if you can get away with ignoring the Constitution when fiscal matters are the issue, you can ignore its Bill of Rights when personal freedoms are being considered.
Ryan's overall voting record is disappointing, assuming the standard for rating his votes is not his fidelity to party leadership but his fidelity to the U.S. Constitution. Of course, the two are not always the same. In this magazine's "Freedom Index," our congressional scorecard based on the Constitution, Ryan scored 67 percent for the current (112th) Congress to date (see our most recent index published in our July 9 issue).
Paul Ryan is a fitting addition to the Romney camp. Sad to say, the answer to America's real needs has to be found elsewhere.