Paul Ryan's Big Chance

The Obama administration budget — released on February 26th — hung in the air without a Republican alternative until last week when House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Oh) held a press conference to announce the long-awaited plan. But there was much more — and much less — than met the eye in the Republican’s announcement.

The problem with Boehner’s announcement — and the 18-page plan released to the press — is that it’s a litany of often-heard Republican ideas, not a detailed plan for reducing government spending and keeping the nation safe.

And, unfortunately, it seemed to keep Republicans on the track that destroyed their brand over the past decade. On healthcare, it sounds like Obama-lite:

“Republicans seek to provide universal access to affordable heath care and to address Medicare and Medicaid’s trillion-dollar unfunded liabilities with common-sense reforms that ensure our children and grandchildren can secure benefits into the future.”

Mocking Boehner’s plan repeatedly, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that it “doesn’t actually contain any numbers.”

Which isn’t at all correct. The Republican outline has a lot of them, such as the fact that the Obama “cap and trade” anti-global warming plan — really a tax on energy — would raise the cost of energy by about $3,100 for each American household. But Gibbs’ criticism wasn’t entirely off target. The plan announced by Boehner — apparently over the objections of some Republicans — doesn’t detail what the Republicans would do instead.

Several Capitol Hill Republican sources confirmed that Boehner rushed the announcement before the Republican alternative was finished. But why — a month after the president’s announcement — weren’t Congressional Republicans pushing a clear alternative?

In part, it is because Senate Republican leaders decided against one. In a meeting last Wednesday of the conservative Republican Steering Committee, the fifteen members were still debating what to do despite their leaders’ reluctance. According to a Republican source, they debated whether and how to “grind it out, slow it down” and make the voters understand how expensive Obama’s budget — and the consequences — will be. And no decision was reached.

House Republicans — who have promised a detailed alternative — seemed stalled. One member told me two weeks ago that there were several members, tasked according to their individual committee assignments, who each were developing a part of a clear and detailed alternative. For whatever reason, that strategy has apparently been abandoned in favor of having the Republican alternative developed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wi), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee.

Ryan — an energetic conservative — was outspoken on election night. After Obama won, Ryan said that Republicans needed “a housecleaning” and that they had to be the party of big ideas. And there’s reason to believe that Ryan’s plan — to be released tomorrow — will follow that line.

As the “Almanac of American Politics” reports, in 2007, after being selected to be ranking on the Budget Committee, Ryan said, “We lost our brand as the party of fiscal responsibility, and we’ve got to get it back…It’s important that we give voters a very clear choice on fiscal policy as to where the two parties stand.” Ryan took action to do just that in March 2007 when he offered an alternative to the Bush budget that would have trimmed spending considerably. It was voted down, with many Republicans voting against it.

This time Ryan needs to do much more, and take his case directly to the voters personally and convincingly. He can’t do it alone but as the principal author he has to be its principal and most visible proponent.

First, Ryan needs to do what Obama promised in the campaign: to go through the Obama budget if not line-by-line at least department-by-department and show voters what should be cut out and what needs to be changed to strengthen the economy and national security. It’s not enough to oppose earmarks and Obama’s energy tax, health care plan and education expenditures. Ryan’s plan needs to propose real cuts in baseline government spending.

If he does, Ryan can then point to Obama’s careless and reckless attitude about the damage Obama’s spending spree — capped by his huge budget — will cause. Hyperinflation is caused by government overspending coupled with extreme growth in the supply of paper money. Which is precisely what Obama has set in motion: the government is simply printing and spending money at an unprecedented rate.

Obama’s Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, pooh-poohed the thought of hyperinflation. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Geither said, “That’s not going to happen in this country. It’ll never happen.” Ryan’s budget — and his explanation of it — needs to go straight at that reckless assumption. Hyperinflation — deeply reducing the value of every dollar every American earns, saves or spends — can happen here, and it will if the Obama budget is passed. It may well happen even if it’s not because the “stimulus” legislation, bank bailouts and credit market interventions have already pushed the supply of US money beyond the levels that can be sustained by our economy.

Second, Ryan needs to expose the “reconciliation” strategy Congressional Democrats are putting in motion to enact Obama’s energy tax, health care and education spending plans through the budget process. “Reconciliation” was invented to reduce – not increase – federal debt. It allows the House and Senate to instruct committees to craft substantive legislation that is later voted on under procedures that essentially guarantee passage unchanged. This time, the Democrats intend to use it to double the federal deficit in the next four years.

Third, and not last, Ryan can propose an alternative to strengthen our national security and label Obama’s defense plan the oxymoronic “wartime peace dividend” it is. No responsible person could recommend delaying for another five years the purchase of new air refueling tankers for the Air Force. But Obama does.

There are new data points that Ryan should have in mind. Not in writing the budget, but in planning to sell it to the American people. A recent Gallup poll showed that at least 40% of Americans believed the threat of man-made global warming is exaggerated. And a new Rasmussen poll says that 60% of Americans view House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unfavorably (42% say “very unfavorably.”)

Obama’s “cap and trade” tax is an economy-buster, and Pelosi is its biggest fan. Ryan can hang Pelosi around Obama’s neck like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross. And he should.

Paul Ryan has the opportunity to change the national debate on Obama’s spending spree and bury the idea that Republicans have nothing to say except “no.” This is a chance to lead he may never have again.