Repeal Obamacare. Lower income tax rates and simplify the tax code. Cut Medicaid by a third and make it a state-controlled block-grant program. Overhaul Medicare by giving beneficiaries money to buy competing public and private health plans. Reduce non-entitlement spending to its lowest level since World War II. And save $5 trillion in the process.
These are the bold ideas contained in Paul Ryan's austere budget proposal, which the congressman from Wisconsin has gradually persuaded Republican thought leaders, lawmakers, and presidential candidates to support in an effort to shed the reputation for fiscal profligacy that the Republican Party earned under President George W. Bush. "To find a parallel to the way Ryan has so thoroughly seized control of the Republican agenda and identity, you have to go back at least to Gingrich in his nineties heyday, or possibly to Reagan," New York magazine marveled last spring.
In the 2012 presidential election, contender Mitt Romney didn't just champion Ryan's ideas -- he tapped the 42-year-old libertarian-leaning lawmaker as his running mate, catapulting the debate over the size and scope of the U.S. government to the top of the political agenda. "The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government," Ryan declared during his speech at the Republican National Convention, where organizers prominently displayed a humming national debt clock.
Ryan's anti-deficit jihad has global implications too. He has embodied his party's internal struggle over defense spending, voting for automatic defense cuts to trim the deficit while opposing reductions in military spending. "Letting budgetary concerns drive national-security strategy means choosing decline," Ryan declared in his budget, proposing cuts that would effectively slash funding to entities such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department -- but not the military -- by nearly $5 billion. We may not see Ryan's dramatic ideas enacted now that his ticket has lost the election. But they might very well prove prescient.