Magazine article The Spectator

Can Paul Ryan Save Mitt Romney?

Magazine article The Spectator

Can Paul Ryan Save Mitt Romney?

Article excerpt

Washington, DC

If you read only the British press, you might get the impression that Mitt Romney couldn't have found a more extreme running mate than Paul Ryan. The new vice presidential nominee is a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House budget committee, in which capacity he has pushed for gradual but significant cuts in social welfare. Yet it seems that Ryan's criticism of the National Health Service, so celebrated at the London Olympics, has rankled most.

'Romney's new No. 2 savages the NHS, ' declared the Times. The Guardian asked, 'Is Paul Ryan's attack on the NHS healthy criticism?' (Three guesses as to what the answer is. ) Even the Daily Mail dubbed Ryan a 'conservative hardliner'.

Romney's vice presidential choice hasn't been altogether welcomed by the US media either. A blogger for Esquire condemned Ryan as a 'murderer of opportunity' and 'political coward', before settling on 'zombie-eyed granny-starver'.

But so far the American people seem to feel differently. Not only is Ryan attracting much larger crowds at his speeches than Vice President Joe Biden; an ABC News/Washington Post poll actually found that Ryan's popularity was improving despite the media carping. Favourable views of Ryan climbed 15 points compared to a previous survey.

It's not just conservatives getting excited. Among independents, Ryan's favourability numbers essentially doubled from 19 per cent to 39 per cent. Even in the swing state of Ohio, where Ryan's budgetary views are supposed to be anathema to undecided blue-collar voters, Rasmussen found that 51 per cent of voters had a positive impression of the C ongressman, compared to 39 per cent negative. That's definitely good enough for the Republican ticket to work with.

Will those numbers hold? Ryan is most famous for a budget plan that cuts most federal spending and turns Medicare - an arguably NHS-like government healthcare programme for Americans aged 65 and older - into a system that mostly subsidises private insurance premiums. Medicare and Social Security are considered the 'Third Rail' of US politics. If a politician touches either of them, he electrocutes his career.

Yet Ryan has only watched his standing grow as he has emerged as Congress's most daring reformer of Third Rail spending.

Some of his ideas have been echoed by centrist Democrats in think-tank policy papers, though none will sign on to his specific legislation. Democrats prefer to run television advertisements depicting Ryan pushing elderly, wheelchair-bound women off cliffs.

Nevertheless, what was once Ryan's obscure 'Roadmap' would, if the will of the Republican-controlled House were followed, in modified form become the federal budget of the United States. The Ryan plan received majority support in the House and had the second-highest number of votes in the Senate. The only budget proposal to receive more votes was a Republican alternative that built on Ryan's Medicare ideas.

Ryan's bargain is essentially that he wants to make US spending commitments commensurate with the country's historic tax burden, without excessive cuts to defence spending. …

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