America could use more politicians like Paul Ryan. A lot more.
Ryan, of course, is a Republican U.S. representative from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee. He was Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012.
This week Ryan put forward a detailed plan for reforming federal anti-poverty programs. Ryan's bold and smart proposals are merely the most recent example of his constructive and courageous approach to politics.
Ryan has had real life experiences to which ordinary Americans can relate. He has worked at a McDonald's, helped hold together his family and its business after his father died, and went to college at Miami of Ohio instead of the Ivy League.
In 2008, Ryan burst on the national scene with his Roadmap for America's Future. When most politicians were scared to talk about reforming entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, Ryan proved you could not only survive, but prosper by telling the truth and offering intelligent ideas.
In 2009 it briefly appeared that the new president, Barack Obama, might attempt to work with Ryan. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Republicans recaptured the House in 2010 after Obama and congressional Democrats rammed through Obamacare on a party line vote. Ryan then put forward his Path to Prosperity budget proposal, another detailed reform plan to deal with the fiscal disaster confronting the nation.
Obama responded by inviting Ryan to sit on the front row for a speech in which the president savaged the plan, implied that Ryan was not serious, and questioned his courage. The confrontation surprised and disappointed the optimistic and upbeat Ryan.
"I was expecting some counteroffer of some kind," Ryan told The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza. "What we got was the gauntlet of demagoguery."
Undeterred, Ryan proceeded to pursue bipartisan reform. In late 2011, he and liberal Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden put forward a Medicare reform proposal that retained traditional Medicare for those at or near retirement age and others who wanted it, but offered private options, too.
Ryan acquitted himself well as Romney's vice-presidential choice. Although unsuccessful, the national campaign did nothing to change Ryan's well-earned reputation as a "happy warrior" who preferred specific policy debates to canned partisan cant.
In 2013, Ryan worked with his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Patty Murray of Washington, to reach a bipartisan budget agreement that avoided a government shutdown and reduced the deficit without raising taxes. The deal compromised between lower House and higher Senate spending levels and showed Ryan to also be a practical legislator who could get things done.
Ryan was among GOP supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, but now sees that as dead in this session of Congress. He still backs legislation to address the immediate crisis of unaccompanied children migrating from Central America, but blames the failure of bigger reform on Obama's refusal to enforce existing laws.
America now spends $800 billion on 92 federal programs to fight poverty, Ryan says. He proposes a pilot program called the Opportunity Grant that would consolidate 11 federal programs - like food stamps, housing assistance, child care, cash welfare - into one funding stream to states that decide to participate.
Ryan calls for "more flexibility in exchange for more accountability." He wants to "put the emphasis on results," and allow states to use private service providers to give people a choice beyond government agencies.
"In short, we're reconceiving the federal government's role," Ryan explains. "No longer will it try to supplant our communities but to support them." He calls the federal government "the rearguard," but refers to "the people on the ground" as the "vanguard."
Ryan says, "They fight poverty on the front lines. They have to lead this effort, and Washington should follow their lead."
His plan also calls for doubling the earned income tax credit for childless workers, paid for "by eliminating ineffective programs and corporate welfare, like subsidies to energy companies." Additionally, Ryan incorporates ideas of other Republicans to "expand access to education," "reform our sentencing guidelines," "tackle recidivism," and "cut down on bureaucratic red tape."
There are critics, of course. In The Atlantic, conservative David Frum says Ryan's plan is based on obsolete thinking and does not meet the challenges of today's harsh new economic realities. Yet Frum does praise the spirit of Ryan's proposal for showing that "conservatives are back in the idea business and "competing to offer solutions, not only complaints."
Democrats, of course, trash Ryan while incessantly demanding more money to spend on more of the same programs that have proved ineffective. Obama, in a recent display of particularly pathetic demagogic pandering, demands that Republicans "stop just hatin' all the time," hike the minimum wage, and pass more stimulus spending on infrastructure.
No wonder foreign powers hold Obama in such obvious disdain. The American people are belatedly doing the same. This endangered country desperately needs more politicians like the courageous, creative, and substantive Paul Ryan, and fewer like the shallow, stale, and solipsistic Barack Obama.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com.
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