Saturday, November 18th, 2017

The Ryan Roadmap


This is my Waukesha Freeman column from 2008 when Congressman Paul Ryan presented his Roadmap to a townhall meeting in Janesville:

Roadmap to success?
Ryan’s bold plan for tax, entitlement
reform could face tough opposition


May 29, 2008

“Welcome to the Ryan Express!” With that, the Americans for Prosperity busload began to roll from New Berlin to Janesville to see Congressman Paul Ryan present his “Roadmap for America’s Future.”The Ryan Express. I couldn’t help but remember the movie with the similar name. “Von Ryan’s Express” starred Frank Sinatra as an American colonel trying to lead a group of British prisoners of war out of Italy. The British soldiers, led by Trevor Howard, have a myriad of reasons to dislike Ryan and only reluctantly follow his leadership to freedom.

Congressman Ryan is from Wisconsin’s 1st District, which includes the southern part of Waukesha County. He is the ranking Republican member on the budget committee, so Ryan’s “roadmap” is the plan of one of the party’s leaders. The question is, how many will follow him?

The room at Janesville City Hall was packed. Aides scrambled to bring in more chairs. Ryan stood in the center with the screen behind him. He could have been a vice president of finance of a local corporation explaining the profit and loss sheet with his Powerpoint presentation and his laser pointer.

Ryan admitted his plan is not something we can expect to happen right away. After all, he told the packed house, “Here’s the problem with Congress. We’re told, ‘Don’t try something that’s risky; there’s an election next year.’” Of course, Ryan adds, there’s always an election next year. He gets applause for the line, but the questions about the plan are skeptical.

The plan itself is simple enough. It has three goals: universal health care while making the current entitlement programs affordable, control federal spending and the debt and restructure the tax system to reduce the burden on corporations and simplify it for individuals.

On health care Ryan would provide a refundable tax credit to purchase health insurance in any state. He would establish transparency in pricing and quality to allow better consumer shopping. And he would increase the options of Medicaid recipients while targeting the funding toward the poor and the sick.

Medicare and Social Security would remain the same for those 55 and older. But those younger would see Social Security become a “means tested” program, while being able to invest more than one-third of their current Social Security taxes into secure investments administered by the Social Security Administration.

On taxes, he would offer taxpayers a choice. They could either pay according to the current system, or they could pay 10 percent on income up to $100,000 for joint filers and 25 percent for income above that, minus an increased standard deduction and personal exemption. He would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, taxes on interest, the inheritance tax and the taxes on capital gains and dividends. He also wants to replace the corporate income tax with a 8.5 percent consumption tax that would shift from products being exported to products being imported (definitely popular with the crowd).

The alternative, Ryan warned, is to watch government spending consume more and more of our gross domestic product, crushing the standard of living and reducing America’s competitiveness in the world.

It’s a bold plan, all the more daring when you consider that the most applause Congressman Ryan received all evening was when he switched topics to oil production. There were very few in the room who objected when Ryan suggested drilling for more oil in Alaska, in the Rocky Mountains and off the coast of Florida. When he said, “Build more oil refineries” you would have thought he was telling Janesville he was secretly Oprah and giving them all a free car.

But Ryan warned the audience that while most of them were supportive of more domestic oil production, “You should see all the letters I get against it.”

At that moment I flashed back to the end of “Von Ryan’s Express.” Sinatra is laying dead on the tracks, riddled with holes by the Germans as the soldiers who reluctantly followed him escape to freedom.

Congressman Ryan’s future is often talked about in terms of a possible Senate candidate or even vice president. We’ll see if he can avoid the tragic movie ending while leading us to entitlement reform.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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