Earlier this year, Rep. Paul Ryan, a 40-year-old Republican congressman from Wisconsin, published “A Roadmap for America’s Future,” his blueprint for balancing the budget. Despite much fanfare, Ryan’s proposal — which rigorously tackles federal entitlements, taxes, and spending — was left out of the House GOP’s “Pledge to America.” The omission, he says, does not signal a retreat by him or his party.
“I did not write the pledge,” Ryan says in an interview with National Review Online. “I did the first draft of the preamble and that’s pretty much what my involvement was. . . . I was consulted on policy ideas, but not on writing the thing. I was not one of its architects.” Rather than judge the pledge as an all-encompassing policy document, Ryan calls it an “important and necessary first step.” Its text, he notes, does not preclude him from continuing to battle for long-term fiscal solvency.
Should Republicans win the House, Ryan would likely ascend to the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, a powerful post. “We obviously are going to have to take on entitlement reform,” he says. “I don’t know what the budget will look like, but its form will be determined by the consensus I can get from at least 218 people. What I would hope to do is get this budget needle moving in the right direction.” Still, as he looks toward a possible scenario of divided government, Ryan is quick to say that he does not wish to “overpromise.”
For the moment, Ryan remains unsure about the exact future of the “Roadmap,” and whether he could package its components into a passable budget. But he is confident in his party’s ability to have an “adult conversation” on entitlements in coming months. Ryan says Republican leaders are supportive of his ongoing budget work and swats away whispers of intraparty turmoil.
Without hesitation, Ryan tells us that Rep. John Boehner, the House GOP leader, understands the economic stakes. “I think [Boehner] grasps where America is and what we’re confronting,” Ryan says. “John Boehner never once tried to talk me out of pushing these ideas and reforms. There has never been a discouraging comment or word from him on pushing the fold on big ideas.”
Beyond Boehner, Ryan says that his GOP colleagues on the Budget Committee are stalwart in their commitment to entitlement reform. “The culture on the Budget Committee is great,” he says. “Anybody who studies this problem or digs deep into the numbers is seriously frightened about the future of this country. They realize the urgency of the moment. After a sober review of the fiscal condition of this country, most people just put politics aside.”
“I spend a lot of my time looking at these baselines,” Ryan says. “Most people don’t know this stuff. Most people in Congress don’t understand just how quickly our fiscal situation has deteriorated. And now the Left thinks that you can keep raising taxes, as if there were no consequences to that.” To fight back, Ryan says Republicans need to focus on two things: “economic growth and reforming the structure of spending.” The debt, he warns, will continue to spiral out of control unless Congress “literally restructures the programs that are growing so fast.”
The way forward, Ryan continues, must include a robust platform founded upon “pro-growth tax policies, sound money, clear and transparent regulation, and government restraint.” Republicans, he says, “are unanimous on not raising tax rates and in getting our tax code more competitive internationally so that we can grow.”
Repealing Obamacare is another important, and popular, measure. “We should look at every option we have available to us to try to repeal and replace this law,” Ryan says. “This law cannot stand. It is a policy disaster and a fiscal explosion.” His plan of attack: “We will go at the funding angle from many different directions.”
An earmark moratorium — also left out of the pledge — is another area where Ryan promises to tangle. “Of course we are for an earmark moratorium,” he says. “That just goes without saying. You think, if we get the majority next year, that we are going to start turning earmarks on? Some people might think that, but they’re in for a rude awakening.”
In coming months, winning over new GOP members, and providing them with reams of economic data and an idea of the federal government’s long-term fiscal outlook, is high on Ryan’s to-do list. To help the cause, Ryan intends to pen version 3.0 of the “Roadmap” early next year. “What we need to do is quickly bring them up to speed,” he says. Some, of course, are already well-versed on the “Roadmap” and its principles. “Dozens” of House candidates, Ryan confides, have reached out to him to offer their support for his budget plan, which, for the moment, has only 13 co-sponsors. “Reinforcements are coming,” he assures us.
Still, such conversations, Ryan sighs, are often private, since Democrats have eagerly targeted the “Roadmap” and Ryan himself. Many Republicans are wary of backing Ryan’s ideas publicly. “Look, I get that,” he says. “I’ve experienced their demagoguery on entitlements. It’s like being hit by a two-by-four across the head.”
“Scaring seniors is apparently the past, present, and future of the Democratic party,” Ryan continues. “But they have created political paralysis. I’m fed up with it, and I’m not going to let it intimidate me. I’m going to go forward, put ideas out there, and get this debate moving one way or the other.” It’s a fight, he says, that he does “not intend to lose.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.