Ok. I admit it’s unlikely that Rep. Ryan will be giving stump speeches based on his pro-government credentials. Nonetheless a fundamentally positive view of government is part of Ryan’s platform. The new newly minted vice-presidential candidate states in his Path to Prosperity budget proposal:
“The unchecked growth of government has degraded its effectiveness and rendered its institutions incapable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.”
Ryan made a similar point in a speech I attended in Janesville earlier this summer. He argued the increasing debt burden on the United States makes debt service a growing annual expense that lessens the nation’s ability to provide a social safety net, an adequate defense, and other essential government services. Simply, the pie of available government funds is shrinking because of our obligations. The longer debt grows unchecked the worse the structural problem becomes (check out the scary graph on page 6 of Ryan’s plan).
Ryan’s argument parallels one WPRI has made repeatedly at the local level: Growing legacy, debt service, and healthcare costs are not abstract concerns but rather annual lines on government budgets that threaten the adequate funding of needed government programming. I do think legislators on both sides of the aisle get this basic structural problem. The difference is the preferred policy response.
Ryan proposes cuts to federal government spending, lower taxes, and structural changes to our social safety net designed to lower costs, and, in his opinion, improve quality. In other words, reverse the growth of debt by shrinking overall spending and encouraging economic growth.
It is certainly a plan for smaller government, but certainly not anti-government. In contrast, President Obama argues for increased revenue through what he calls a fairer tax code, and savings through entitlement reforms. He may not be for smaller government, but he certainly is for effective government.
I am hopeful the choice of Ryan represents a growing acceptance among conservatives that government can and should play an important role in American life. The nature of that role, the ways in which its efficiency can be maximized, and the ways in which it can be sustained long-term deserve attention and debate. The entry of Rep. Ryan into the presidential race is fostering such a debate, and that is a huge step toward building government institutions that are up to the challenges of the 21st century.