It’s not yet clear whether Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old chairman of the House Budget Committee, satisfies the main requirement for being vice president — a readiness to assume the presidency. His foreign-policy knowledge hasn’t been tested. Despite 14 years in Congress, he has hasn’t had to withstand the relentless vetting that goes into a presidential campaign. But Ryan has distinguished himself as a politician with real convictions.
Now, as the economic branch of the conservative movement pressures Mitt Romney to make Ryan his running mate — a point passionately argued in recent editorials in The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal — Ryan’s name is on many Republican lips. And as well it should be.
The Journal and the Weekly Standard are tired of the tit-for-tat tone of this year’s campaign, and yearn for a battle of ideas. It’s hard to argue with them. The presence on the national ticket of Ryan, whose budget proposal goes farther than that of any other Republican in sketching out the tradeoffs necessary to make the sharp spending reductions many in the party seek, would serve as a kind of truth test for both sides. A contest between Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan would be less superficial — less derogatory and less likely to get mired in dubious assertions.
A signature feature of the Ryan plan is to turn Medicaid, the federal health benefit for the very poor, into a “block grant,” under which the federal government delivers a certain amount of money to the states and lets them figure out how to spend it. Our view is that the block grant would be a means for the federal government to cut its spending on Medicaid without facing up to the potentially disastrous implications for recipients, hundreds of thousands of whom are in nursing homes and have no other income; plus, much of the “savings” would get recharged to taxpayers through their states. However, Ryan and Romney have a legitimate point in suggesting that states can find new and creative ways to deliver services, and that the federal solution isn’t the only solution. A debate on the subject would be energizing for the candidates and edifying for the country.
A contest centered on Ryan’s budget promises to be fierce, but at least it would be built around issues of direct relevance to the moment — unlike, say, Obama’s ads accusing Romney of outsourcing jobs through Bain Capital, or Romney’s assertion that Obama’s willingness to give welfare waivers to some states amounts to a gutting of the work requirement.
A debate on Medicaid would be energizing for the candidates and edifying for the country.
What depresses voters and raises cynicism about politics is not just negativity, but the way certain attacks gratuitiously exploit existing resentments while simultaneously steering the conversation away from actual policy choices. Voters come away angrier than ever, but less sure of the ground they’re standing on — less able to say what they’ll really get when they pull the lever in November.
Ryan has been clearer than most politicians about his beliefs and his game plan. He deserves serious consideration by Romney.