By A.B. Stoddard - 05/26/10 11:01 PM EDT
If Republicans win back the House this fall, carried to victory by the issue of soaring debt, high noon will arrive for the GOP on the subject. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who would be chairman of the House Budget Committee, will see to it.
With the election just five months away, and the Greek debt crisis promising to rage through the summer, Ryan’s now two-year-old plan for fiscal solvency — “the Roadmap” — has evolved from an esoteric white paper for conservative eggheads to a nationally recognized GOP blueprint for tackling the fiscal crisis. Republican candidates running on the plan, such as U.S. Senate contenders Marco Rubio in Florida and Dan Coats in Indiana, will elevate it even further next year should they prevail this fall.
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, expects that Ryan will have backup in the next Congress. “The Democratic spending binge has alarmed the public and refocused Republicans on fiscal issues. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Republicans are prepared to make dramatic cuts in spending and meaningful reforms in entitlements. That is especially true of GOP candidates who will arrive next year in large numbers with a mandate to put the nation’s finances in order. They will put steel in the spine of the GOP conference,” said Cole. “Paul Ryan is the intellectual and political leader of this emerging reform movement.”
Back when Republicans controlled everything and were ignoring deficits themselves, Ryan could see the coming tsunami. He spent four years working on his plan, as well as his seniority at the Budget Committee. He knew it wasn’t until he was ranking member that the Congressional Budget Office and the administration’s actuaries would help him crunch his numbers. The Roadmap website is an impressive wonderland of depressing factoids, while promising that for a few more years there is still a choice. Watch Ryan, on video, spell out the fate of future generations, buried under debt with lower standards of living in a welfare state that can’t be reversed. There he is, smiley Mr. Wisconsin, the ideal face for the voice of doom.
Ryan says the Roadmap doesn’t have to be the solution, but that he will push the party to address the fiscal crisis somehow. This week he and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) offered a plan to cut $1.3 trillion in spending that Democrats won’t even read. But Ryan has authored bills and plans for years, even in the minority. In a sea of rhetoricians and platitude-peddlers, Ryan is a plan man.
“Paul Ryan is the only elected official that’s actually laid out a plan. He has a very thoughtful, realistic approach to dealing with this fiscal crisis, and he’s the only guy out of 300 million people that I’ve seen that has done so,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told The Weekly Standard this week.
Democrats don’t agree and have ripped the Roadmap with gusto. Ryan expected as much; political consultants have told him all along he is nuts. But he isn’t trying to be a good politician.
“I figure, try and be a Paul Revere on the fiscal situation,” Ryan said. “I might get knocked off my horse, but at least I’ll sleep well.”
The reformers are coming! Both parties — be warned.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.