08.16.2012 1

Paul Ryan should force debate on entitlements

Paul Ryan

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

By Adam Bitely — The introduction of Paul Ryan into the presidential race breathes new life into an election cycle where the important issues of the day were being pushed to the side for trivial back-and-forth’s on issues that have no bearing on federal government policy going forward. Ryan’s entrance into the race has brought back the all-important economic and fiscal issues that Obama and Biden would rather hide from.

Contrary to many claims in the media, a vice presidential pick rarely has any effect on the outcome of an election. These picks are merely symbolic announcements aimed at firing up the base. In the case of Paul Ryan though, the debate is forced to turn to the economy and the sorry state of the nation’s finances that are dragging it down. And as often happens with VP selections, the chosen candidate is often given an exaggerated story in the aftermath of their rollout.

Case-in-point: the Paul Ryan fiscal conservative who makes radical cuts to government.

As a member of Congress, Ryan supported TARP, No Child Left Behind, the largest expansion of Medicare in history, the auto bailouts and several increases in the debt ceiling. That doesn’t sound like the voting record of one committed to across the board downsizing of government.

Only recently has Paul Ryan become a boogeyman for the left with his budget plans that have passed the House but gone nowhere in the Senate. While Ryan’s budget was one of the better budgets written by a member of Congress in the past four years, it does not do any of the “radical” or “bold” stuff that many on the left and right say it does. Rather, it shows that House Republicans have a rather small appetite for cutting government spending.

It’s hard to argue that a budget plan that cuts around $148 billion over a two-year period is “radical” or “bold.” The Ryan plan, contrary to suggestions from many prominent Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, cuts less than 3% from entitlement programs. Perhaps the only “radical” part of the plan is that it would have balanced the budget in 2040—and that’s nothing to brag about.

While Ryan’s budget may not be the best vehicle for shrinking government spending, he is at least sparking a debate at the national level of whether or not the government is spending too much. Even more, there will be a debate about how entitlement programs are funded. And this is a debate that is much needed.

For far too long, politicians have been able to skate through elections without having too tough the supposed “third rail” of American politics—entitlement programs. Paul Ryan changes this. Instead of debating whether or not some trivial research program is excessive or some bizarre project like a “Bridge to Nowhere” is necessary (this is a usual staple in political debates), voters will get to watch the two major political party tickets discuss the future of Medicare. Not many would have thought that such a risky debate would be had in this election cycle before Ryan’s nomination.

Since entitlement spending and other means-tested welfare, or wealth transfer programs as I like to call them, account for over 50 percent of federal spending, this would be a worthwhile debate. Such a debate would most likely have been avoided without Paul Ryan joining Mitt Romney’s ticket.

While Vice Presidents have very few constitutional powers and roles, the role that Ryan now has in forcing a political debate on the future of entitlement programs will be his biggest. Hopefully he will step up to the challenge and make the case, as he seems capable of doing, that free markets rather than government coercion is what Americans need. Ryan could impact the election by forcing such a debate.

Adam Bitely is the Editor-in-Chief of NetRightDaily.com. Follow NetRightDaily on Twitter at @NetRightDaily.

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