Paul Ryan and Prosperity PAC: 'If We Compromise Too Far, We Can Win But We Still Lose the Country'

Photo credit: Bill Clark/Roll Call

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, also leads the Prosperity PAC, a political action committee devoted to supporting his ideas for reform and to helping candidates who share them.

As the 2012 election approaches, Rep. Ryan is focuing his Prosperity PAC on grassroots education initiatives designed to change the terrain of national debate about the country’s fiscal future, and to elect reform-minded candidates to Congress.

Recently, the Prosperity PAC released a new memorandum on health care policy. It shows that health care costs are the primary cause of rising national debt, and proposes patient-centered, market driven solutions to reduce those costs.

Specifically, the Prosperity PAC advocates premium support for Medicare, block grants to states for Medicaid, and tax reform that will enable patients to buy portable insurance plans.

I spoke with Rep. Ryan this morning about the Prosperity PAC’s latest effort.

Tell us about what the Prosperity PAC is doing about health care policy.

We’re trying to get activists informed and educated about what it takes to repeal and replace the President’s health care law, how health care costs are a driver of debt, and how health care policy is an indicator of economic and personal freedom in the future.

Our purpose is to get activists motivated, to bring people to Congress who will fight for these reforms–not those who will go wobbly when things get tough. We want to get committed reformers to Congress to help stave off a debt crisis, and to get grassroots activists informed about what changes are necessary.

The Supreme Court is going to rule on ObamaCare this term. If all or part of the law is repealed, would that change your agenda?

Even if we assume that in June 2012, the whole thing goes down, we are not going to get an agreement on new legislation with this President and this Senate in the fall of a presidential election. What we have to do is get Republican candidates to commit to an agreement on reform so that when we win next November, it will be a win for limited government and economic freedom. We believe that health care is the lynchpin of it all, and so during the campaign season is when you want make sure we have men and women running for Congress who know the stakes, who are ready and willing to do the right thing, and who are committed so that when they get to Washington they follow through.

Let’s consider several scenarios. Suppose President Obama wins re-election with a Republican Congress–

I don’t even want to think about it! (Laughs) I believe we will win both. What is most important is that we understand this is a contest about ideas, and that we understand there is a difference in the architecture of these ideas. We can be like Republicans in the past–trim the edges, slow things down, make things more affordable, buy time. Or we can do what is necessary to save our country. We’ve got to understand that there are core principles involved here–that if we compromise too far, we can win but we will still lose the country

It’s really important that people understand the problems driving spending and debt. When we’re up here cutting deals, there is much more at stake. Prosperity Action is trying to change the premise of the debate about spending, to help educate the country, to educate grassroots activists–and, through them, to get representatives in Congress to understand the stakes and the core principles and how what they do will affect our future.

The reason I ask about political scenarios is that reform is politically difficult. What, for example, should Republicans learn from the recent referenda in Ohio?

Yes, there were two referenda–on collective bargaining and the President’s health care law. Certainly, Ohio and Wisconsin are the tip of the spear. In Wisconsin, voters can recall the person; in Ohio, voters can recall the policy. These are both good early warnings that if we allow the country to go past certain fiscal tipping points, and past the moral tipping point of too many takers versus too few makers, then we could become stuck in a European rut, with such a big government that we always elect the party of government. Then we would enter what I call a phase of managing decline–of debt, doubt, and decline. The choice before us is between the opportunity society with a safety net on the one hand, versus the welfare state on the other hand. The 2012 election is really a referendum on the American idea, and if we do our jobs right, as incumbents, we will give the country that choice. And if we win that kind of an election, then we will have the moral authority to make the changes needed.

I am interested in your use of moral terms to describe this debate. That’s not how we’re used to hearing about moral issues in politics.

It’s fundamentally a moral issue. I think that we can’t simply talk about numbers and figures. We’ve got to talk about the morality of our system, and how it’s superior to the doctrine of shared scarcity. We’ve got to talk about the moral difference between a philosophy that aims at equality of opportunity, and one that seeks equality of results. There is a huge distinction in outcomes–and principles. We need to speak to people in that way, to capture hearts, minds, and passions. I believe that President Obama is going to campaign on the idea that he offers the country a kind of security, that the Republicans will feed Americans to the wolves to help their rich friends. He’s going to use resentment, fear, and envy. We must reject that substantively–statistically and quantitatively, but also seizing the moral high ground. If we do that, we will have the kind of reaffirming election the country needs. That’s why the Prosperity PAC is getting information about health care policy and other issues into the hands of grassroots activists, to build a movement at a key historical moment.

Suppose the eventual Republican nominee doesn’t want to take on the issues in the same way?

That’s not going to work. If we simply say we’re going to be better stewards of the economy than “that guy,” it’s not enough. It’s not enough simply to say, “This is a referendum on Obama; vote against him and we win by default.” We have to win an acclimation election. We can’t just be the lesser of two evils. We have to win an affirming election. We have to earn this thing.

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