The following editorial appeared recently in the Chicago Tribune:
"This plan of action is about putting an end to empty promises from a bankrupt government." — House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on his 10-year blueprint for federal spending, taxes and debt, March 20, 2012.
With a choice bold rather than safe, Mitt Romney is chiding his fellow Americans — politicians included — to get serious. Having written that nobody required candidates for president in 2008 to face runaway entitlement costs, Romney is forcing that crisis to prominence in the 2012 campaign: His running mate is the U.S. politician who, at grave risk to his own career, has argued most compellingly for entitlement reform.
We don't know whether adding Paul Ryan to the ticket costs Romney the presidency or wins it for him. We do, though, know what the Wisconsin Republican delivers to the 2012 campaign: With his passion to revive this nation's treasury and economy, Ryan injects stark substance to an uninspiring, cheap-shot contest we've called a race to the bottom.
Our authority on Ryan-as-force-vector is none other than Democratic strategist (and Ryan critic) James Carville. Asked recently by The Weekly Standard if Ryan was the veep prospect the Obama campaign would most like to run against, Carville answered, "I don't think he'd be their first choice, but he'd be a clarifying choice. The race wouldn't be about personalities, it'd be about big issues."
Whatever the outcome Nov. 6, Ryan will make Americans confront the warning from federal trustees that Medicare's hospital-insurance program will spend its last dollar in 12 years and that Social Security will empty its trust fund in 21. Plus the reluctance of the Obama administration to include significant entitlement fixes in its four proposed budgets. Plus a run of trillion-dollar deficits.
Meeting with the Tribune editorial board in April 2011, Ryan alluded to the 2010 midterm election as proof that politicians needn't continue to hide from these financial threats to the nation's future. Today's voters want solutions: "What if your congressman, your president knew what was coming and did nothing?" he asked. "What would you think of that guy? ... Everyone tells me that I'm giving our political adversaries this massive political weapon to use in the next campaign. Yes, we are. But you know, if you don't start fixing these things ..."
The choice of Ryan means we'll surely see revivals of that 2011 attack ad in which a Ryan look-alike symbolically savages Medicare by dumping Granny off a cliff. Whether you like Ryan's entitlement rescue proposals or someone else's, remember to applaud any pol accused of trying "to end Medicare (or Social Security) as we know it!" Someone had better reinvent these entitlements — yes, end them as we know them — and fast. Because as we know them, they're doomed to insolvency — unable to pay the full benefits that Congresses and presidents, Republicans and Democrats, have promised.
Another spot we'll likely see now that Ryan is in the race: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking to Ryan's committee Feb. 16 about a federal debt now approaching $16 trillion. "You are right to say we're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution," Geithner said. "What we do know is we don't like yours."
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Romney's campaign has had its own denial: His handlers insist he has given voters a clear agenda for public-sector solvency and private-sector growth. To our eyes, his plans are opaque. By embracing Ryan, though, Romney transports voters to the hill on which his candidacy will live or die.
In Ryan, Romney has a running mate who, with his gravitas and his 14 years in Congress, could step in as president. The choice of Ryan also means that as Americans debate whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would best energize our economy, federal spending, taxes and debt will be central to the fight.