TIMOTHY NOAH AUGUST 13, 2012
Two days in, we're seeing three main lines of attack against Paul Ryan:
1.) He wants to abolish Medicare "as we know it" and replace it with a voucher system that will shift significant costs onto the elderly.
2.) He wants to abolish Medicaid and the food stamp program, too, and replace them with block grants that would radically shrink available funds for the indigent.
3.) As a budget-balancer he's a phony, because his drastic cuts in federal programs are accompanied by irresponsible cuts in taxes for the rich, and because when George W. Bush was president he voted for the unfunded Medicare drug benefit.
So many vulnerabilities, so little time! The next line of attack, I predict, will be that Ryan hearts unemployment.
The basis for this claim will be his introduction, during the 2007-2009 recession, of a bill to repeal Humphrey-Hawkins. Humphrey-Hawkins was a 1978 bill that started out as a hugely ambitious New Deal-style program to fight unemployment, and ended up passing Congress as a hollow shell of a thing whose only memorable legacy is a requirement (more like a plea, really) that the Fed take unemployment levels into consideration when it sets monetary policy (something that was part of its original charter but has played a minimal role since the Great Inflation of the 1970s). The Fed's job, Ryan said in 2010 in an interview with Charlie Rose, is "price stability: Maintaining the value of our currency, and keeping prices stable. That's a necessary precondition for economic growth. Not trying to micromanage employment, because that comes oftentimes at the expense of price stability." This from a guy who kicked off his vice-presidential campaign attacking Obama for tolerating too much unemployment! Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisc., incidentally, was particularly hard-hit by unemployment during the recession when the closing of a General Motors plant in 2009 resulted in the loss of 5,000 jobs (though lately its economy has shown some signs of picking up).
Ryan's opposition to Fed stimulus is so pronounced that he's been accused of trying to sabotage the economy to help the GOP win back the presidency. That's a hard case to make, considering that he was pushing to repeal Humphrey-Hawkins before Obama was even elected. The more mundane truth is that he's an ideologue who thinks the government shouldn't lift a finger to reduce unemployment.