In the age of Obamacare, Republicans in Congress have much in Washington to oppose and will continue to do so, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan told a downtown Minneapolis audience Monday. But in 2014, Republicans must transition from being the “party of opposition” to “a party of proposition.”
It’s just a phrase and time will tell whether Ryan and his party deliver a clear alternative on health care and other issues as they seek in November to win control of both houses of Congress. Ryan did not offer those explicit alternatives Monday in a lunch talk to the righty Center of the American Experiment. Nor did he discuss the recent controversy surrounding one of his remarks that has been characterized by some liberals (including Paul Krugman) as a racist dog-whistle.
Playing on the name of the host organization, Ryan said the center of the American experiment is the notion that “the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.” Ryan did not acknowledge the long-established findings that social mobility in America — the likelihood of moving up the spectrum of wealth and class over the course of a lifetime — is lower than in Canada or much of Western Europe.
But his overall remarks clearly implied that, to the degree that is so, it is the fault of liberalism and the growth of the entitlement state. Building on previous presentations he has made in this, the 50th anniversary of the declaration by President Lyndon Johnson of a war on poverty, Ryan said that poverty is winning. The portion of Americans living in what Ryan called “deep poverty” is the highest on record, he said.
The problem, he said, is that the war on poverty turned the basic principle of the American experiment — a limited government that guarantees a set of “natural rights” and creates an equality of opportunity — into a system that seeks to guarantee “equality of outcomes” based on new set of “government-granted rights,” which now includes a “right to health care.”
But the rollout of Obamacare has been an “unfolding disaster,” Ryan said, predicting that even if it isn’t repealed, the program will “implode” on its own.
Ryan, as you likely know, is a Wisconsin congressman who was the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012, chairs the House Budget Committee, and is considered a possible presidential candidate for 2016. On Monday, he said little about the 2012 campaign and nothing about 2016. But during the question-and-answer portion of the program, Ryan had an opportunity to revisit and revise one of the low moments of the Mitt Romney candidacy.
The 47 percent question
A man in the audience said that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes, benefit from the welfare state, and will never vote for Republicans, so what does Ryan propose to do about it.
I have no idea whether this was a set-up, but Ryan was definitely ready for it and said what I’m sure Romney wishes he had said on a similar, famous, supposedly non-public occasion in 2012.
Ryan said it was a “mistake” to assume that people on welfare, whom he described as “net consumers of government,” want to perpetuate that condition. “They don’t,” Ryan said. “They want to get on with their lives” and will respond to a Republican message of opportunity and job creation.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Ryan closed with a pretty good joke about his great-great-grandfather, the first of his family to make it to America. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. I hadn’t.)
Great-great-grandfather was on his deathbed, and his brother-in-law was attending. Great-great-grandfather asked if he could prevail on brother-in-law for a last favor. Of course, of course.
Underneath this bed is a bottle of fine Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, great-great grandfather said, that he brought over from the old country and that has been aging to perfection all these years. He asked that brother-in-law bring the whiskey to his funeral and pour its contents over the casket so great-great-grandfather could savor it for all eternity.
Of course, replied brother-in-law, “but would you mind if I passed it through my kidneys first.”