While the two national conventions have now ended with neither candidate getting much of a bounce out of their party’s showcase, I do believe there was one very significant development during the summer – the selection of Paul Ryan as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate.
In my book Congressman Ryan is sitting in a great position: heads he wins, tails he wins. A Romney victory will make him vice president of the United States; an Obama victory will leave him the 2016 Republican front-runner, and most likely the titular head of the opposition party. Not bad for 42 years old!
In full disclosure I have known Paul since he was a young Congressional staffer, always smart, but also always with a quick smile and sense of humor. I must confess as Congressman Brownback’s legislative director I didn’t think, “boy I just met a future vice president of the U.S.,” but I always felt I was working with a bright guy.
While the focus of the news media is on the race for the White House, capital markets are concerned with the so-called “fiscal cliff” the U.S. Government faces at year-end. The fiscal cliff centers on the expiration of the Bush tax rates, budget sequestration of $100 billion half coming from defense, end of the lower rate of the payroll tax, and other substantial changes to fiscal policy.
Both parties are deadlocked on how to resolve this serious fiscal policy issue; there is need for leadership to find a resolution that is acceptable across a broad spectrum of American politics, especially if we continue to have divided government. Paul Ryan, with his unquestioned leadership position in the budget debate may be just the right person to lead a grand compromise. In my mind the stakes are so high that it is fair to make an analogy with the role he can play in helping to develop a budget strategy to the position President Nixon was in when he opened relations with Communist China. Under my “Nixon to China” analogy, Paul can go to Republicans to sell a deal as almost no other Republican official. At the same time he has an understanding of the budget that Democrats at a minimum deeply respect.
While there can be a lot of debate about various provisions in the Ryan budget plan, there can be little dispute that he has at least shown the political courage to put forward a real plan. The president, much to his credit, at one point called the Ryan plan a legitimate proposal that had some ideas he supported. But as the partisan wrangling increased any chance of agreement evaporated. Now with Ryan’s nomination to the Republican ticket the issues he raised become the focus of a great national debate.
I must confess to being skeptical as to whether or not the voting public is really ready for the deep cuts envisioned in the plan developed by Chairman Ryan and his Republican colleagues. However, the Congressional Republicans were largely successful in nationalizing the 2010 elections over budget deficits, and there were overwhelming Republican victories demonstrating at least in theory there is strong support for tackling tough fiscal issues, and that at some level there is deep-seated concern with the rapid growth of the central federal government.
The 2012 election will be one of the most issues oriented debates in many years. As has been said many times – elections have consequences. Regardless who wins, the fiscal cliff will force serious debate on fiscal policy issues, and Paul Ryan seems destined to be at the center of the debate.
Tom Block is a public policy consultant who had a 21-year career with JP Morgan Chase where he served as head of government relations in NYC and created a Washington research product. He also created the bank’s EU Government Relations program and developed a new position as U.S. Government Policy Strategist focusing on how U.S. government policy impacts capital markets. He has an extensive government and banking background, has worked on political campaigns and as a speech writer. He is a family trustee of Bernheim Aboretum in Louisville and holds a B.A. degree in political science from American University. He and his wife make their home in Kentucky. He is a regular contributor to KyForward. Contact him at email@example.com.