Sunday, August 12, 2012


Weeks of speculation finally culminated Saturday with Mitt Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his running mate for the 2012 US Presidential election. And it isn’t hard to see why. With his youth and popularity, Mr. Ryan brings a powerful energy to the ticket, and a sense of warmth that the often-wooden Mr. Romney lacks on the trail. Plus, as a wonkish budget guru, there is no risk of him saying anything overwhelmingly stupid, a la Palin.

Having said that, though, adding Mr. Ryan to the ticket probably made it a whole lot harder.

The two men have an obvious chemistry, and Mr. Ryan is far more comfortable talking to voters on the trail.
We’ll start with his economic and fiscal ideas. Mr. Ryan has not been one of those obstructionist Republicans, content to vote no to a Democratic bill and stop there. Rather, he has been particularly pronounced in championing alternative budgets and deficit reduction plans of his own.  There are two problems with the Ryan plans (The Roadmap for America's Future Acts and alternative budgets in 2009, 2010 and 2012).

The first is its treatment of Medicare and Medicaid. On the former, Mr. Ryan’s plan calls for defined payments to seniors, who can then use the money to buy private or government insurance plans. Mr. Ryan assumes competition between providers will drive insurance costs down, and the plan’s proposed payouts are to increase at a rate slightly more than GDP grows. Mr. Ryan wants Medicaid funding to be slashed by $ 735 billion over ten years, and the cash given back to states to spend as they see fit.

And therein lies the problem. Back when Mr. Ryan came out with his deficit plan, the bill received a great deal of fanfare from Republicans before it quietly sunk under the radar. One of the main reasons for this was seniors, for whom Medicare is an extremely emotive issue, and a plan that makes them pay significantly more out of their own pockets, as the Congressional Budget Office reports, is not going to go anywhere.

Mr. Ryan with his 2012 budget proposal 'The Path to American Prosperity'
Political commentators are already voicing concerns on the impact such a budget would have on one of the most important states this election- Florida, where seniors are a more powerful force than they are anywhere else in the nation. A July 9 Rasmussen Reports poll gave Mr. Romney 46% support to Mr. Obama's 45%, which means anything could happen from now until November.  

The Romney campaign had always been rather vague on specific economic and fiscal policy. Now that Mr. Ryan’s given the ticket details, he’s given a new boost to Barack Obama’s constant line of attack that a Romney presidency would gut the middle class to enrich the wealthy. That would be the second problem with Mr. Ryan’s deficit plan- it calls for eliminating all taxes on capital gains, interest, and stock dividends and to cut the top tax rate by a full ten percentage points.

A snapshot of what the Obama team has (unsurprisingly) said about Mr. Ryan. Expect more of the same from the President's team.
With all that, it’s hard to see why Mr. Romney would want to burden his (probably intentionally vague) campaign with such politically troubling detail. In my opinion, conservatives would have voted for unexciting Mr. Romney anyway; that’s how much they dislike Mr. Obama. The question from here on out is simple: will Messrs. Romney and Ryan do well enough at explaining the economic rationale of such an extensive hacking of the welfare state to independents? Maybe; Mr. Romney is a businessman after all, but I'm skeptical.

It has been famously said that the job of Vice President is ‘not worth a bucket of warm piss’. Still, recent vice presidents have been pivotal enough- look at Dick Cheney on national security and Joe Biden on the Afghanistan-Pakistan conundrum. Mr. Ryan looks to be as important, whether he eventually emerges a help or hindrance.  

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