John McCormack writes about his visit with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who confirms that he has no intention of reversing his decision to forgo a presidential race:
Ryan’s decision not to run for president means that when the GOP selects a nominee Ryan will relinquish his role as the most important Republican in America (a role he took on following the release of his Medicare-reforming budget in April). But it’s clear that in Ryan’s second act--prosecuting the case against Obama, boosting the eventual GOP nominee, and shaping the agenda--he still intends to play a big part.
“I’m not going away. It’s not like I’m leaving. It’s not like I’m going to go away and go become a hunting guide for the next four years,” he says. “I will be involved one way or another in shaping this.”
Asked if he’s concerned that his work on the budget will have been for nothing if the GOP nominee runs away from entitlement reform, Ryan replies, “I don’t think he will. I don’t think he can.”
“I’ve talked to all of these candidates, and I’m convinced that they want it, that they know we’ve got to do this fast. We’ve got to do entitlement reform,” he says.
Ryan lets on that he’s spent some time with Mitt Romney:
“I spent an hour with Romney on Thursday,” Ryan says. The two talked about entitlements on Capitol Hill. “I think he gets the situation, and I think he’s serious about fixing it if elected. I think Perry’s the same way. I know Herman’s the same way.”
But what about Romneycare? Ryan has said Romneycare is “not that dissimilar to Obamacare.” Is Ryan “intellectually dishonest,” as New Jersey governor Chris Christie said of those who claim the two programs are similar?
“Well, I guess from a federalism standpoint, I understand that point,” Ryan says with a laugh. He doesn’t back off of his judgment about Romneycare, but says the issue is irrelevant. “I don’t think this question matters that much anymore because Romney’s been very clear that he’s against Obamacare and he’s going to repeal it. So I for a second don’t worry about whether he’s going to shy away from repealing the president’s health care law.”
What to make of all this? Well, Ryan isn’t endorsing anyone in the primary, and told McCormack that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Herman Cain have made strides in presenting bold fiscal proposals. His goal is not to elect a specific candidate, but to ensure the nominee has a specific agenda.
Even if Ryan isn’t running himself, he’s trying to play a constructive force, in delivering a series of high-profile speeches and pushing the GOP contenders to adopt a conservative reform agenda. And it may be working.
A I reported yesterday, Romney is giving a speech on fiscal issues on Thursday in New Hampshire. I wouldn’t expect at this stage a detailed budget akin to the Ryan budget. It is not necessary for him to get that far into the weeds. But it is essential, as Ryan I am certain told Romney, to begin to put some meat on the bones and present a framework for tax, spending and entitlement reform.
It is interesting that in addition to aversion to tax hikes and a determination to restrain the size of government both Ryan and Romney have treated entitlement reform as something more than a means to achieving deficit savings.
A Capitol Hill Republican familiar with Ryan’s views told me last night that Ryan considers entitlement reform as essential to preserve these programs for future generations. Romney has said much the same thing. On Social Security, a Romney white paper explained: “His starting point in addressing Social Security is the basic principle of keeping our promises both to current seniors and to future generations. Romney agrees with the program’s many critics who express deep concern about the long-term financial health of the program. But he parts company with anyone who believes those financial problems require dismantling the program itself. Instead, he has elaborated a number of options that can keep the program solvent without having either to raise the payroll tax or to expand the base of income to which the tax is applied.”
In his white paper on jobs, Romney similarly argued, “First, we must keep the promises made to our current retirees: their Social Security and Medicare benefits should not be affected. But second, we should ensure that the promises that we make to younger generations are promises we can keep.”
It is fair to say, then, that Ryan and Romney are working on parallel tracks, if not exactly in tandem. Ryan is pushing for concrete spending and tax reform along with conservative solutions to preserve entitlements. Romney is trying to get elected, which involves reassuring conservatives about his economic agenda and preparing to carry a banner of non-terrifying reform into the general election. Ryan wants his ideas to prevail; Romney wants to prevail in the race. To the extent Ryan needs a winning candidate to present an effective agenda that embodies some of his own ideas and to the extent Romney could use some conservative intellectual firepower, the two may form a comfortable alliance.