While some Republican vice presidential aspirants may be lacking in political star power, that’s not a problem for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Not since former Republican House member and now Ohio governor John Kasich made the budget process seem more like a religious calling than a legislative chore has anyone come close to Ryan’s gift for dominating the national debate with his clarion conservative message.
Ryan has compelled Congress, the Obama administration, senior citizens advocacy groups, K Street lobbyists and others come to grips with hisbudget roadmaps. If the Republicans manage to win back the White House and the Senate in November, Ryan’s proposals likely will become the template for historic cuts in government spending, a massive rewrite of the federal tax code and the most profound changes to Medicare and Medicaid since their enactment during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration.
“The criticism we get is that we’re not offering a balanced approach,” Ryan said recently. “I would simply say if a balanced approach means never balancing the budget, that’s not the kind of balanced approach we want to have. A lot of folks who talk about having a balanced approach say just raise more tax rates but don’t deal with the structural drivers of our debt, don’t restructure the entitlement programs so that they can still fulfill their missions.”
While hardly a household name, Ryan has certainly gained substantially in national prominence, especially after he campaigned with Romney earlier this year in Ohio and other Rust Belt states. He generates more excitement than many of the other vice presidential wannabees – including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
“He’s very smart, he’s a very good speaker, and I think he has a good physical presence,” said John Zogby, a veteran Republican pollster, in sizing up Ryan’s prospects. “He’s young but he’s not too young. He’s also from what could be a swing state. He represents a conservative wing of the Republican party that seems to be acceptable to all the conservative wings of the party – the social conservatives, the Tea Party and the Libertarians."
An April CNN/ORC poll found that 43 percent of Americans surveyed had a favorable view of Ryan, second only to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, with 44 percent. A Quinnipiac University national poll that same month showed that 23 percent of Americans thought that Ryan would be a good choice for vice president and 17 percent thought he would be a bad choice, while others had no opinion.
Yet Ryan’s widely heralded, and widely reviled, budget and entitlement reform proposals may be too extreme for many Americans, who share GOP concerns about the deficit but don’t want to completely scrap Medicare as we know it or slash federal spending on education and food stamps. Ryan’s budget calls for $5 trillion more in savings than President Obama’s plan over the coming decade without requiring wealthier Americans to pay more in taxes to bring down the deficit.