The Agenda

A Brief Note on Ron Wyden

Scrolling through my archives, I notice that I’ve praised Oregon Senator Ron Wyden on a number of occasions. He has led the fight against domain seizures and SOPA, he is a committed federalist, and he’s joined forces with Rep. Jason Chaffetz to protect against encroachments on our civil liberties. At TPM, two center-left journalists raise an obvious question about the Wyden-Ryan Medicare proposal: 

It’s unclear what if anything Wyden gains politically out of teaming up with Ryan. The move will infuriate other Democrats, all the way up to President Obama, who has been preparing a national campaign that emphasizes — not obscures — the contrast between the parties’ different visions of the social safety net.

One answer is that Sen. Wyden, like Alice Rivlin and a number of other Democrats, believes that moving to a premium support model is the best way to preserve Medicare’s commitment to providing senior citizens with quality medical coverage. 

It occurs to me that Wyden is very much a “Western Democrat,” in the vein of former Colorado governor Roy Romer: more liberty-minded than traditional labor-liberals, yet strongly committed to the preservation of the safety net and the environment. Republicans used to have Westerners of a similar temperament, like the aforementioned Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, an ardent pacifist. I hope that Wyden’s decision to join forces with a Republican House member won’t discredit him in the eyes of Democrats, because he really seems like a genuinely public-spirited and intelligent dude — far more effective than former Sen. Russ Feingold, who received more kudos yet who had less to show for his time in office.

And Wyden can’t be dismissed as an attention-seeking “maverick” who bucks his party with no rhyme or reason, an accusation that some have leveled against Sen. John McCain. He has a coherent and consistent worldview. Wyden-Ryan is, for example, a logical extension of his Wyden-Bennett health reform proposal. 

Indeed, Wyden-Ryan makes me think that the senator’s Wyden-Gregg tax reform proposal deserves a second look. Its biggest downside, from my perspective, is that it didn’t do enough on tax expenditures or on the taxation of capital-gains and dividend income, but it’s three-rate structure and its modest base-broadening look like a big improvement over the current code.  

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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