Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave a speech and answered a few questions at the Heritage Foundation on the subject of “Saving the American Idea”. If you haven’t seen it, you need to block off an hour, find a comfortable spot, and curl up with this video. His speech, which covers 40 minutes or so, is a full-throated indictment of how Federal government policies have punched gaping holes in the notion that America is the land of opportunity. His central point is one that every conservative politician ought to stress every week, if not every day: we should never have to ask permission from Washington before we pursue the American Dream.
There are a couple things about his talk that interested me beyond the obvious and delicious helpings of limited government “red meat”. First, one of the questions toward the end of the session involved Catholic theology as it touches on the welfare state. It’s the kind of question that, I think, would have tripped up quite a few politicians. It would have stumped me, I can tell you that. But Ryan, who is Catholic and has weighed in on the intersection of faith and fiscal policy before, answered the question substantively. That impressed me quite a bit. I’m not sure how many members of Congress could have handled that question without fumbling it badly.
The second point of interest was how intensely Ryan has focused on the budget process itself. It is, as he says, a huge mess even beyond the fact that the Democratic Senate has not passed a budget in over 900 days. From where I sit, any effort to make that process more simple and transparent is worth our support. It’s not one of the glamorous reforms — entitlement, spending, or tax reform will get all the headlines — but it is necessary and it could be every bit as important to the conservative quest for limited and reasonable government as the others.