Paul Ryan’s budget, 2012 edition, looks substantially like its 2011 predecessor. But it doesn’t sound the same.
Gone are the snippets from political philosopher John Locke and the venerated words of various saints of American political history — Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt among them.
In short, Ryan 2011 sounds like a graduate thesis on statistical steroids. Ryan 2012 is like an 80-page campaign commercial.
The distinctions help map out where the country was in 2011, how Republicans have responded to the initial Ryan budget, and how they see the budget in the context of the 2012 campaign.
Back in 2011, Republicans had just surged back into the House of Representatives on a wave of back-to-the-roots conservative groundswell. Under the broad heading of the tea party, the movement that gave Paul Ryan the gavel of the House Budget Committee was going to get its out-of-control government — Obamacare, the stimulus, bailouts of the automotive and financial industries — under control.
At that moment, Ryan wrote a budget that sounds like it could be delivered as the keynote for the Jim DeMint Prize in Economic Freedom. Ryan ties the Declaration of Independence (publication date: 1776) with Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” (publication date: 1776), noting a confluence of moral and economic sentiments.
It’s a brisk walk from there through Locke, George Washington, Alexis de Tocqueville and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn who give us one general thought: Commerce is good, America has is great because it recognizes this, and American commerce is part and parcel of the nation’s moral underpinnings. From there, the 2011 budget propositions grow.
They got hammered by Democrats who, in one memorable campaign ad, showed a Paul Ryan look alike literally pushing grandma (Medicare) off a cliff. This year, Sherman continues, Republicans got a lesson in political messaging before the budget saw the light of day: say things like “bipartisan” and claim to “fix” Medicare to “keep it from going bankrupt.”
Reading the 2012 budget, this lesson was well-heeded.
The first page of the 2012 Ryan budget is a chart titled “A Contrast in Visions,” stacking up Ryan’s budget against President Obama’s. While James Madison and Winston Churchill make cameos in the introduction, the most frequently-footnoted non-technical source in the document may very well be Barack Obama, as Ryan continually contrasts his views with that of the President.
Republicans, Ryan’s 2012 budget says, aren’t flying off the tea party handle any longer. This is a budget about the President as much as it is about the GOP, echoing the theme that many Republican elder statesmen have noted over the past several months: Republicans may not be fired up by their presidential choices but they’re definitely enthusiastic to beat Barack Obama.
But for all the changes, one thing has stayed the same: Ryan’s insistence that we’ve reached a historic moment to deal with America’s financial challenges.
“It is rare in American politics to arrive at a moment in which the debate revolves around the fundamental nature of American democracy and the social contract. But that is where we are,” Ryan wrote in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. “And no two documents illustrate this choice of two futures better than the president’s budget and the one put forward by House Republicans.”
Of course, that rare moment Ryan describes also happened in 2011.
As the introduction to Ryan’s first budget puts it, “[r]arely before have the alternatives facing America been so starkly defined.”
Indeed. Here’s to a historical 2013, too — and perhaps, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “a wise and frugal government.”
— David Grant / @DW_Grant
PHOTO: In this photo provided by CBS News, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Washington. The debt-slashing GOP budget plan, authored by Ryan and endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week, is heating up as a presidential campaign issue. It would slice $5.3 billion from President Barack Obama’s budget over the coming decade through tax reforms and sweeping program cuts. (AP Photo/CBS News, Chris Usher)
Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget is set to be unveiled Tuesday morning. And as you would expect, the House Budget Committee Chairman and rising GOP star went and did what most members of Congress do before laying out their plans for the nation’s fiscal future.
He cut a trailer.
Wait, what the heck? A trailer?! For a budget?
Paul Ryan: The Movie has more of a Woody Allen flavor than, say, Michael Bay (note the unfortunate absence of explosions). But it does raise an interesting way of thinking about the budget as amoral document.
Why should you care about Paul Ryan’s budget?
Answer: The budget is a major touchstone for Republicans and may be the cornerstone of a vision for the GOP presidential candidate come November.
Let’s back up to last year, for a moment.
In 2011, the first after an electoral landslide put Republicans back into power in the House, Paul Ryan burst onto the scene with a massive budget document that would have fundamentally altered Medicare, cut taxes, and slashed the federal debt by $4.4 trillion over 10 years.
Republicans hailed the plan as a realistic way to solve the nation’s debt problems. Moreover, it was a useful weapon with which to hammer Democrats over their inability to pass their own budget proposal.
Democrats, for their part, took one look at Ryan’s Medicare proposals and tried to make “Ryan budget” synonymous with “end your Medicare” for seniors.
The point of that budget was to lay out a plan.
This year, nearly everybody knows the outline of the plan.As such, it’s much more important to lay out a vision.
In a campaign season, the budget is going to strain to get GOP votes in the House, much less having even a moment’s consideration in a Senate chamber controlled by Democrats. Just look at last year’s trailer - it’s all about Paul Ryan the professor, not Paul Ryan the visionary.
With that in mind, Ryan has recast the budget in terms of a moral calling.
“I was here, in Congress, in 2008, when we had the economic crisis… That crisis caught us by surprise,” Ryan says, a chorus of violins rising ominously in the background. “What if your president, your senator, your congressman knew it was coming.
What if they knew when it was going to happen, why it was going to happen and more importantly what if they knew what they needed to do to stop it from happening — and they had the time to stop it. But they chose to do nothing about it because it wasn’t good politics? What would you think of that person?
It would be immoral.”
Arguing about the morality of leaving debt for America’s children isn’t exactly novel campaign fare - if America had a nickel for every time a member of Congress raised “our children and grandchildren” as a reason to do something, we’d have paid off the national debt a long time ago.
But taken in the context of what Paul Ryan believes the country needs in November, its an interesting point. Ryan has argued over and over again that the US needs an “affirming” election, where the two candidates stake our clear positions such that the American public can offer a clear mandate to fix the nation’s fiscal problems.
Winning by default, he says, is not an option.
That’s where the budget comes in. It’s a bright (moral) line that the GOP could use to highlight how it thinks America should solve its long-term financial challenges.
Will Democrats do the same? Will Republicans pick it up? We’ll be watching.
— David Grant / @DW_Grant