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Monday, August 13, 2012

The Choice

House budget maestro as veep shines light on O’s glaring waste

The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate has political analysts scrambling, because they think it means Romney has decided to change the course of his election campaign in a direction favorable to Barack Obama.

They say he wanted the election to be a “referendum” on the Obama presidency’s performance. By choosing Ryan, though, they argue Romney has instead acceded to a “choice” election between two wildly different approaches to the future — which is, they say, just what Obama and his team want.

They should be careful what they wish for.

Perhaps the most intellectually impressive and tactically deft member of the House of Representatives in a generation, Ryan rose from the Republican ranks to undeniable political stardom by seizing hold of one of the most boring portfolios in Washington: the government’s budget.

Usually the politicians who swim in those deep waters either turn into backroom manipulators or get completely lost in the wonky details. Not Ryan, who both understands and can explain how fights over the budget represent the most fundamental differences between the two parties on the future direction of the country.

He made the case against the administration’s disastrous spending increases and ruinous policy direction in three dazzling confrontations with administration officials — one with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner earlier this year and two with the president himself in 2010.

In the contretemps with Geithner, Ryan grilled his fellow wonk on the administration’s failure to deal with entitlement spending until the Treasury secretary offered one of the more telling statements in recent Washington history: “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem. What we do know is, we don’t like yours.”

At the second of his discussions with the president, at a health-care summit in February 2010, Ryan questioned the notion that ObamaCare could simultaneously cover 30 million more people and cost the American people less than the current system — which openly flustered the president and cemented Ryan’s reputation as a serious and tough-minded master of policy.

Romney’s choice of Ryan suggests the Republican nominee now understands there is no real difference between a “referendum” election and a “choice” election.

Every race involving an incumbent is a referendum on his term in office. And every race involving a challenger poses a choice. The question is the same in both cases: Do you stick with the devil you know or go with the devil you don’t?

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