CHARLOTTE — Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) might be new to Washington, but she is a veteran of big budget battles. As the speaker of the California Assembly, she had to go toe-to-toe with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to close a $26 billion budget gap in 2008 — the first of many deep fiscal holes that had to be filled. Today, Bass sits on the House Budget Committee with Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.). And she’s having a sense of deja vu.
“Four years ago, California had gone off the cliff. The state had run out of money,” Bass told me the night before she spoke to the Democratic National Convention. “We hadn’t had a budget in months. No one was being paid. And the Republicans were using the economic crisis to drive an ideological agenda. An ideological agenda . . . that did not believe in a safety net, that believed in the survival of the fittest.
“I come here [to Washington]. Paul Ryan is the chair of my committee and he’s actually put this in writing. He calls it the ‘Path to Prosperity’ — I call it the ‘Manifesto Against the American People’ — where he talks about using the fiscal crisis to essentially fundamentally transform America. The difference between California and Washington is that the Republicans are in charge.”
When a friend noted that it has been the goal of conservatives to eliminate the promise and the programs of the New Deal, Bass agreed. “And they use the economic crisis to say we have to make cuts. Now, making cuts is one thing,” she said. “But what they were trying to do in California was fundamentally transform the safety net. If you make cuts, you can always restore. If you eliminate programs, it’s very hard to get them restarted.” Bass warned, “If Romney were to win or we were to lose the Senate, we wouldn’t recognize the country in 10 years.”
Bass said she let out a big “Yes!” when word leaked out that Ryan would be Mitt Romney’s running mate because it meant the hard-to-pin-down Romney was saddling himself with someone whose positions are in black-and-white. “Romney, we know,” she said, “is an Etch a Sketch guy so he changes his position with the wind. Paul Ryan has written his position down for years, tons of documentation.”
Bass thinks Ryan’s career arc and his devotion to Ayn Rand have put him out of touch with “average people.”
“Paul Ryan is 42 years old and he’s been in Congress his entire adult life,” she observed. “He came to Congress when he was 22 years old as a staffer. And then he won election and so he has no connection to average people. . . . He has been on the government dole his entire adult life. And I don’t think he has any relationship to an average working person and the struggles that they go through. And that’s manifested by the fact that he has been in the Capitol his entire adult life.”
But what about Ryan’s story of the loss of his father and how he had to grow up faster than a child should. Bass nodded with understanding, but then delivered her blunt assessment. “And one would think he would have a little more empathy,” she said. “For whatever reason, when he came to Washington and got enchanted by the philosophy of Ayn Rand and decided to subscribe to that and require people that he worked with to read it, he lost his bearings.”