It’s Paul Ryan’s party now

Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, wants to fundamentally reshape government.

He’s already succeeded in passing his plan in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And Romney’s budget proposal is so consistent with Ryan’s that that the two of them could tell each other, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Ryan also exemplifies the Republican party’s increasing rejection of centrist policies and personnel.

Like President George W. Bush who turned surpluses into deficits, Ryan is no fiscal conservative. Ryan would take the federal budget to 1950 levels, a time when our population was younger, and before Medicare, Medicaid, the interstate highway system, environmental laws and student loans. Still, despite bringing total outlays down to the cost of just today’s military, the budget wouldn’t balance until 2040.

How can Ryan not balance the budget after dismantling so much of the federal government? The answer is simple: He’d keep all of the Bush tax cuts and add even larger ones — but not for the average family.

Ryan’s massive tax cuts are aimed at upper-income taxpayers. Under the Ryan plan, Romney, who reported $20 million of income in the one tax return released, would pay a tax rate under 1 percent. Yet Ryan would end deductions that help the middle-class, such as the mortgage income deduction, and their taxes would rise. The plan redistributes wealth — upward — while undermining the programs that, for many decades, have helped families live in security and dignity and pursue opportunity.

Other deficit reduction plans take very different approaches, do much more to reduce the deficit and avoid undermining popular, effective programs. Obama offered $4 trillion in deficit reduction, while millions gained health coverage. Another congressional proposal, praised by President Bill Clinton, boosts education and infrastructure and creates surpluses by 2024.

Ryan would end the guarantees of Medicare and Social Security. He supports privatizing Social Security, an idea so unpopular that President George W. Bush’s attempt to promote it frittered away the political capital he said he earned in November 2004. For Medicare, Ryan would turn the program into a system with vouchers that are worth less as time goes on. People would not be eligible for Medicare until age 67.

Social Security and Medicare are well-liked, highly effective programs that changed the experience of old age by increasing elders’ financial and physical well-being.

In commenting on Ryan’s plan, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaimed, “a just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” and “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.” A few months ago, Newt Gingrich labeled the House Republican’s plan “right wing social engineering.

As Republicans endorsed Ryan’s plan, the party purges. Moderates have been defeated or silenced. Romney, a former moderate, either responded to his party’s shift by yielding to pressures from party activists and funders or changed his own mind. Whichever the case, Romney has gone all in.

Despite urgings from Romney, Ryan’s budget hasn’t passed the Senate, which has a Democratic majority, but it’s been endorsed by Maine Republican Senate candidate Charlie Summers.

This is not your parents’ Republican party.

Just look at what happened in reliably Republican Kansas last week. Gov. Sam Brownback had faced opposition from fellow Republicans for a Ryanesque “tax plan, which lowered income taxes on top earners and small businesses while eliminating many popular credits and deductions.” Countering them, Brownback campaigned against eight state Senate Republicans.

After being hit by a barrage of negative ads, Kansas Senate President Steve Morris and the others lost their primaries. Said Morris, big funders David and Charles Koch want to make Kansas “an ultraconservative utopia” and “testing ground” and drove out these Republican moderates.

Pressure to tow this new party line also hit Maine. When facing a Tea Party challenger, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe wasn’t even endorsed by Summers, to whom she gave his political start. And she’s still being criticized for being insufficiently loyal to the Republican party, based on when she announced she would not seek re-election, her center-right voting record and willingness to work with Democrats.

Former moderate governor Romney may be at the top of the Republican party ticket, but it’s Congressman Paul Ryan’s party now.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.