I spoke with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) by phone a short time ago after the details of Mitt Romney’s spending and entitlement reform plan were released. It is fair to say that the often optimistic and cheery Ryan was downright effusive about the contents of the plan.
Ryan told me, “Look at what he put out! This is a great development. It shows that the elusive adult conversation is taking place, but all on one side.” He ticked off the proposals including block-granting, cutting the federal workforce and entitlement reform. He said, “This tracks perfectly with the House budget.” He was careful not to forget the other GOP candidates, adding that “Romney and others are serious” about real fiscal reform.
I asked him about Romney’s decision to offer traditional Medicare as one option in the premium support plan. He said that he and former Fed vice chairwoman Alice Rivlin had discussed that idea, and so long as the government, as Romney detailed, would provide a capped amount to be used either for traditional Medicare or for private plans, the same cost savings could be obtained under Romney’s plan as under the plan Ryan proposed as part of the 2012 budget. Ryan deemed this approach as “perfectly in keeping with serious reform.”
On the defense side, the congressman pointed out that Romney, like Ryan, did not take an ax to defense. According to Ryan, this places Romney firmly in the “hawk” camp, while setting forth attainable means for getting spending down to 20 percent or lower of GDP.
He dismissed that notion that conservatives should be “quibbling” over Romney choosing a 20 percent cap rather than 18 or 19 percent of GDP. Ryan told me, “This is getting government back to its historic size” at a time when the retirement population is growing by leaps and bounds. He added, “This is getting us toward a prosperity agenda that will allow the private sector to grow.”
Ryan said he’s been talking to all the candidates and spoke with Romney directly yesterday. Without wanting to go into the details of the conversation, he said, “I was very pleased with these kind of entitlement reforms.”
Romney here did the smart political thing — giving House Republicans support for their 2012 budget effort, reaching out to conservatives — and the responsible thing. He’s left goofy ideas (send Social Security to the states) and symbolic but unattainable items for others to pursue. He has made clear that he’ll work with the conservative House Republicans and take the heat that certainly will come from offering serious entitlement reform.
Most important, if he is the nominee and the next president, he’ll have a mandate to pursue his conservative agenda. No wonder Paul Ryan was so pleased.