Mitt Romney’s decision to tap Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential nominee could dramatically shift the campaign from one about Obama’s record and Romney’s biography to the huge policy divide between Democrats and Republicans over how the federal government should spend and raise money.
By selecting Ryan, Romney closely associates himself with the author of a controversial budget plan which would dramatically overhaul the federal government. Ryan, as head of the House Budget Committee, has called for big reductions in taxes for both wealthy individuals and corporations and for turning Medicare into a program in which each senior citizen gets a voucher of several thousand dollars to purchase their own plan, instead of the current, government-operated program. He would make Medicaid a block grant program where each state could set its own rules.
Under Ryan, corporate taxes would be 25 percent instead of 35 percent, and the highest tax bracket for individuals would also be 25 percent instead of 35 percent. He would also cut trillions in government spending, likely reducing funds for education, health care and transportation at a much faster rate than Democrats have proposed in order to balance the federal budget.
The Ryan vision is a dramatic departure from what the president is proposing. In his second term, Obama wants to raise taxes on wealthy individuals to fund increased spending in some areas of education and infrastructure and continue implementing “Obamacare,” which expands Medicaid and sets strict rules for states on how they use the program.
Democrats, including President Obama, argue Ryan’s proposals constitute “social Darwinism” and would benefit the rich at the expense of people who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and other programs.
The Ryan pick comes with major risks and rewards for Romney. On the positive side, Ryan will rally the GOP base, which has embraced the congressman for his bold, conservative budget plan. And unlike Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and other conservatives the Tea Party loves, Ryan does not have a controversial personality and is unlikely to hurl attacks about the president’s faith or birth. Also unlike Palin, Ryan is well versed on most policy issues and unlikely to worry independent voters by not being able to say which magazines he reads. And the 42-year-old Ryan could help the GOP appeal to younger voters.
At the same time, it’s not clear which voters Ryan brings to Romney who are not already conservative-leaning. Even though Ryan hails from Wisconsin, he’s never won a statewide race there and doesn’t guarantee Romney a victory in that state, which Obama won in 2008. Ryan’s strong conservatism will help Democrats rally their base. And a ticket with two white men does little to address the concern that the GOP is not in touch with an increasingly diverse America.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr