Ryan’s budget, which was passed by the House earlier this year, cuts spending and reduces taxes. It also reforms Medicare and Medicaid, he says, in order to keep them solvent for future generations. But to Ryan, his plan is more than a fiscal document, meant to tinker with the bloated federal bureaucracy: It is part of a push to return money and federal power, as well as certain services where feasible, to the people.
Ryan mentions the Catholic principle of subsidiarity as an influence on his thinking. He believes that the best government is a government closest to the people. He is a strong believer in the power of civil society, not the federal government, to solve problems. Community leaders and churches, he says, can often do more for the poor than a federal bureaucrat who scribbles their names on a check, sustaining dependency.
Ryan’s goal, with his budget and future projects, will be to “combine the virtues and principles of solidarity,” which stresses the benefits of the common good, with subsidiarity. The debt crisis, he says, demands an effective solution, but that doesn’t directly correlate with enlarging the federal government or raising taxes. He doesn’t want to cede that argument to liberals, especially those within his own faith community. “To me, those two principles are interconnected,” he says. “I think a lot of folks have been selective in advocating some parts of the teaching.”
“This is about more than numbers,” Ryan says. “It’s about what kind of country we want to be, what kind of people we want to be. It’s about perfecting the American idea — a land of opportunity and upward mobility. That idea is at risk of being severed for the next generation if we get it wrong. We’re at a very precarious moment in our nation’s history. We need to see it for what it is, and it’s important to reapply those core founding principles which are so consistent with Church teachings, to get back to an opportunity society with a safety net.”
As our conversation closes, I remind Ryan that last summer, in June 2011, he told me that he wanted to play a “Kemp-like role” in this presidential campaign. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who has been touted as a vice-presidential contender, isn’t interested in playing pundit and speculating on his chances; but he says nothing has changed since that earlier comment. Kemp, he says, was a congressional voice who connected conservatism to the empowerment of the poor. He wants to do the same.
“The way Jack always said it is, you can’t help America’s poor by making America poor,” Ryan says. “The president’s policies are failing the poor. We have more of them than ever before. [Liberals] are walking us toward a debt crisis which will hurt everybody in society. We know this and see it and have a moral obligation to prevent it.”
“It’s important for conservatives to never cede the moral high ground,” he says. “We shouldn’t and we don’t have to. We have just as equal a claim.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.