Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Mar 4, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A
Health ideas, fiscal plan put Wisconsin congressman in national spotlight
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)
Is this the Ryan moment, the defining moment of his political career? Congressman Paul Ryan is now the star of stage (the health care summit), screen (Fox News’ favorite congressman) and print (Newsweek). It’s hard to remember a Wisconsin political figure more prominent nationally since Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner played a starring role in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
Who knew a numbers guy could suddenly gain such prominence in the age of political glitterati Barack Obama and Sarah Palin? Yet such is the power of his ideas and the facts at his command that both celebrity politicians recently found time to praise the congressman.
Why now? After all, Ryan’s plan for solving America’s fiscal problems, “A Roadmap for America’s Future,” has been around since 2008. Ryan’s seriousness as a numbers guy has been discussed in Republican circles for some time. There was even talk that if Sen. John McCain was serious about winning Wisconsin in 2008 in his presidential run, he could have picked Ryan as his running mate.
But McCain wasn’t, and so Ryan wasn’t, and Wisconsin’s congressman has now reached the national stage with his ideas despite the much smaller platform of a semi-rural congressional seat
Why now? Two reasons. When President Obama decided to move forward with the stimulus bill, reaction became the tea party movement with a strong fiscally conservative inclination. With Obama’s pursuit of his health care plan, Republicans’ only weapons left were their ideas. And the best at articulating them in the House of Representatives was Ryan.
The Paul Ryan show was on the air again Tuesday night with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News explaining in plain terms the latest health care plan from the president and the tactics that will be used. Van Susteren asked Ryan if the announcement by Obama that he will include Republican ideas in the bill essentially “checkmates” the Republicans.
Ryan replied, “They are using Republican labels but not Republican substance. So, there will be a talk about tort reform but not a real tort reform provision in here. So we really have not seen any change in game plan whatsoever.”
While Ryan was talking to Greta, Newsweek was asking, “(t)he GOP talks a good game about reducing the federal deficit. So why is it ignoring Rep. Paul Ryan’s detailed Roadmap?”
The article explains Republican reluctance to embrace Ryan’s road map because the plan touches the “third rail” of politics, Social Security, and its companion, Medicare. But Ryan insists the public is ready to tackle the problems with those entitlements.
“They know the fiscal situation’s bad. They know this debt is wrong. They know we’ve got a problem.”
Maybe. After all, it hasn’t been that long since billionaire Ross Perot attracted a following showing Larry King charts on America’s debt. That was when America’s budget deficit could be measured in billions of dollars, not trillions.
Had Perot not run such a quirky presidential campaign, and if he had embraced one of the major political parties, perhaps he would have a real impact on the long-term fiscal health of this country, even if he never became president.
Now someone without Perot’s financial wherewithal is making an impact reciting budget numbers like they were his kids’ birthdays. Ryan was described by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday as the one man President Obama did not want to face on health care, perhaps because Ryan knew more than Obama.
Which brings us back to our question: Is this the Ryan moment?
Over 200 people turned out to see Ryan speak at a Young Republican breakfast at Saint Anselm College. The influential Manchester Union Leader commented on Ryan’s visit:
“Ryan is bravely criticizing every entitlement program and special-interest giveaway there is in Washington. And for that, he is being mentioned in many circles as the future of his party. Prospective political candidates, take note. Ryan is riding that ‘third rail’ to national prominence.”
Saint Anselm College and the Manchester Union Leader are, of course, in New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Hang on everybody, because the real Ryan moment may be in 2012.