I tracked down Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in his Wisconsin office this morning. He is, by nature, invariably cheery, but in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s win last week, and in light of recent developments in the presidential race, he is downright exuberant. I ask him his reaction to the president’s comments suggesting the answer to our economic recovery is to hire more government workers.“I’m excited. This is fantastic. Let’s have this debate!”
In Ryan’s view, Obama has let the cat out of the bag. The president and the Democrats, Ryan observes, have infinite faith in government. “They had the same sense of confidence in Wisconsin,” he notes. He contends that Obama’s belief that government creates wealth is “deep in his heart . . . [and] what he believes.”
Ryan (and then Mitt Romney) have been talking for some time about a choice between a government-centered, entitlement society and a market-based, opportunity society. Now the president has come along to highlight that very dichotomy. Ryan sums up the Democrats’ view: “The want a government-centered society and a government-driven economy.” Ryan thinks that Americans “don’t believe [in] that.” If that were the key to prosperity, then Europe would be flourishing.
The president’s “big” argument (and the source of much of his complaining) is that Congress didn’t pass about $130 billion in new spending in his Stimulus 2.0 from last fall. Ryan thinks that is preposterous. “Even in Keynesian terms it doesn’t do anything. It is nothing in a $15 trillion economy.” However, Ryan says the president is trying to defend the idea that government must grow for the economy to flourish. “The premise is so faulty and the evidence so thin,” he says. No wonder Ryan is eager to have the debate that wealth comes not from government but from private entrepreneurs, a growing private sector and a restrained government.
I ask him what he thinks of Romney’s efforts so far on the health-care front. “I’m positive,” he says. “It is important we Republicans offer an alternative to Obamacare based on a patient-run system.” Romney and Ryan have essentially identical plans to bloc-grant Medicaid and put in place a premium support plan for Medicare.
But Ryan stresses, “There are many thing we need to do for the under-65 in the private market. It’s important we continue to advance patient-centered reform.” He praises two significant elements Romney referred to yesterday: insurance reforms (to allow interstate sales, for example) and equalizing tax treatment for employer-provided and individually-purchased health-care plans. Rather than “tear down” the current system he thinks ”this is the way to go” to improve access and restrain costs for non-seniors in the private health-care market. He reels off some additional reforms — making sure insurance plans are transparent (so consumers can know what they are buying), risk pools for the hard-to-insure, and liability reform. All of these, he explains, have a common aim, namely to create real competition for quality and price. He tells me, “The reason I can sit here and read my iPad so clearly is that I got lasik surgery 12 years ago.” He explains that because it is elective surgery, it isn’t covered by insurance and the market operates well. “It’s now cheaper,” he points out, and the procedure has undergone several waves of technological improvement. In terms very similar to Romney’s rhetoric, he says that if the marketplace can work for everything from cars to computers to electronic gadgets, it can work for health care as well.
With regard to Medicaid reform he echoes the Romney philosophy. ”I believe in federalism as well,” he says. He thinks the states should be able to “customize” care for the poor. He notes that under the current system the poor get worse care because “about 1/2 of doctors are not willing to take Medicaid patients.”
As for the landscape in the presidential race, he says emphatically, “I like it a lot. The other guys are having a rude awakening that the country doesn’t have their vision.” He says, “It is a 1980 moment,” when the American people get a dramatic choice. “Mitt owes us a alternative vision,” he says. Is he delivering it? “He is,” Ryan responds. In Ryan’s book if Romney can “turn up the volume and amplify” the contrast in visions between his and the president’s, the GOP will be in good shape.
I have talked to Ryan frequently over the last year or so, and two things struck me. First, even for him, he is pumped up and eager to go after not just the president, but the entire premise of modern liberalism. And second, he is taking great are to show there is no daylight between him and Romney. Given ample opportunity to urge Romney to be more “bold” (as Walker did) Ryan did not take the bait. Perhaps he wants to do nothing that would diminish Romney’s chances for success. Or maybe, he’s trying to show just how good a running mate he could be. Goodness knows, with Wisconsin in play and he and Romney in sync on policy issues, his chances have never been better.