Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had no idea that the day before a major speech at the Heritage Foundation the Republican contenders for the presidency would conduct themselves in such a shabby manner. The address was prepared long ago and has been undergoing drafting and re-editing for a number of days. However, as events turned out it could not be more timely.
Right Turn has received an advanced copy of the speech. An advisor to Ryan reminded me that this is one of a number of speeches on large topics, including remarks on healthcare delivered at the Hoover Institute. Tommorrow, Ryan will focus on:
•Confronting President Obama’s attempt to divide Americans, and explain why raising hurdles to success and stifling upward mobility is not only bad policy, but also antithetical to our timeless principles;
•Encouraging President Obama to take another look at reforms in the House-passed budget to reduce government subsidies for those who are already successful; to join the growing bipartisan consensus on tax reform that is simple, fair and competitive; and to make good on his promise to unite Americans;
•Exposing the real class warfare that alienates the American people from their government: a class of bureaucrats and crony capitalists trying to rig the rules, call the shots, and preserve their place atop society;
•Advancing a principled, pro-growth alternative to the President’s path of debt, doubt, and decline;
•Urging conservatives not to shrink from the President’s predictable attacks, not to play it safe, but to advance an agenda that helps restore the promise and prosperity of our exceptional nation.
The speech begins with a more in sorrow than in anger look at the failed promise of Obama. (“Do you remember what he said? He said that what’s stopped us from meeting our nation’s greatest challenges is, quote, ‘the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.’”) He castigates Obama for a series of just such petty and trivial utterances and the missed opportunities to show leadership.
Ryan pulls no punches. An example of his tough indictment of the president:
The President has been talking a lot about math lately. He’s been saying that, quote, “If we’re not willing to ask those who’ve done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit… the math says… we’ve got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor.”
This is really a stunning assertion from the President. When you look at the actual math, you quickly realize that the way out of this mess is to combine economic growth with reasonable, responsible spending restraint. Yet neither of these things factors into the President’s zero-sum logic.
According to the President’s logic, we should give up on trying to reform our tax code to grow the economy and get more revenue that way. Instead, these goals are taking a backseat to the President’s misguided understanding of fairness.
Ryan makes an effort to draw a contrast between Obama’s class warfare gamesmanship and a Republican vision based on upward mobility:
The President’s political math is a muddled mix of false accusations and false choices. The actual math is apolitical, and it’s clear: By the time my kids are my age, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the size of government will be double what it is today.
Government health care programs alone will have grown to consume 45 percent of federal spending. The primary driver of this increase is runaway inflation in health care costs, which are rising at 2 to 3 times the rate of GDP.
It’s impossible to keep funding health care expenditures at this rate. Even President Obama has said, quote, “If you look at the numbers, Medicare in particular will run out of money, and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up.”
So the real debate is about how best to control these unsustainable costs. And if I could sum up that disagreement in a couple of sentences, I would say this: Our plan is to empower patients. Their plan is to empower bureaucrats.
The Republican plan gives individuals the power to put market pressure on providers and make them compete.
The President’s plan is to give 15 unelected bureaucrats in Washington the power to cut Medicare in ways that, according to Medicare’s own chief actuary, would simply drive providers out of business. This would result in harsh disruptions and denied care for seniors.
Pain like this simply can’t be sustained. So when it comes to out-of-control spending on entitlements, the President’s math simply doesn’t add up.
And his math is no better on the tax side. Let’s say we took all the income from those the President calls “rich” – those making $250,000 or more. A 100 percent tax rate on their total annual income would only fund the government for six months. Just six months!
What about some of the other tax hikes the President likes to talk about? Under the President’s policies, deficits are set to rise by a whopping $9.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
•Letting the top two tax rates expire would equal roughly 8 percent of that planned deficit increase.
•Eliminating tax subsidies for oil and gas companies would only equal 0.5 percent of the President’s planned deficits.
•And what about corporate jet owners? That provision would reduce those deficits by just 0.03 percent.
Ryan makes a call for unity and purpose in politics. “Telling Americans they are stuck in their current station in life, that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control, and that government’s role is to help them cope with it – well, that’s not who we are. That’s not what we do. Our Founding Fathers rejected this mentality. In societies marked by class structure, an elite class made up of rich and powerful patrons supplies the needs of a large client underclass that toils, but cannot own. . . . The legacy of this tradition can still be seen in Europe today: Top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.” He argues that in contrast, “The United States was destined to break out of this bleak history. Our future would not be staked on traditional class structures, but on civic solidarity. Gone would be the struggle of class against class. Instead, Americans would work, compete, and co-operate in an open market, climb the ladder of opportunity, and keep the fruits of their efforts. Self-government and the rule of law would secure our equal, God-given rights. Our political and economic systems — rooted in freedom and responsibility — would reward, and thus cultivate, traditional virtues.”
I am sure that when it was drafted it was not the central point of the speech. But given the rhetoric and behavior of the presidential field today, this section will surely draw attention:
Sowing social unrest and class resentment makes America weaker, not stronger. Pitting one group against another only distracts us from the true sources of inequity in this country – corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless.
Ironically, equality of outcome is a form of inequality – one that is based on political influence and bureaucratic favoritism.
That’s the real class warfare that threatens us: A class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules, and preserve their place atop society. And their gains will come at the expense of working Americans, entrepreneurs, and that small businesswoman who has the gall to take on the corporate chieftain.
Whether Democrat or Republican (Rick Perry now calls Mitt Romney a “fat cat” and play footsie with the fever swamp set) this is ruinous, Ryan warns. He ends on a positive note that politicians of both parties should heed:
Instead of policies that make it harder for Americans to rise, let’s lower the hurdles to upward mobility.
That’s what the American Idea is all about. You know, in the midst of all the joys and sorrows of our everyday lives, I think we sometimes forget why America was considered such an exceptional nation at its Founding, and why it remains so.
To me, the results of the Founders’ exceptional vision can be summed up in a single sentence: Throughout human history, the American Idea has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed.
Americans, guided by our ideals, have sacrificed everything to combat tyranny and brutal dictators; we’ve expanded opportunity, opened markets, and inspired others to resist oppression; we’ve exported innovation and imagination; and we’ve welcomed immigrants seeking a fresh start.
Here in America – unlike most places on earth – all citizens have the right to rise.
Ryan’s tone and substance should be a reminder that politics can aspire to better things and appeal to our best and not worst instincts. Once again, a voice of sanity has spoken up, but not in the presidential race.
I’ll have more to say tomorrow, especially on Ryan’s willingness to make hard choices. But let’s end on a high note: We can be better than the politics on display today.