David Von Drehle | Time Magazine |
Here’s a curious fact: in a year of political gridlock, when Congress could get nothing done — not even pass a budget — the most influential American politician was House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. Through a combination of hard work, good timing and possibly suicidal guts, the Wisconsin Republican managed to harness his party to a dramatic plan for dealing with America’s rapidly rising public debt. He brought an ugly issue out of the foggy realm of think tanks and blue-ribbon panels and dropped it into the middle of the national debate in time to define the next presidential election. If 2012 turns out to be a clear choice between very different answers to a genuinely important question — instead of the usual vague contest between competing slogans and haircuts — give the credit to Ryan.
The supply-sider from Janesville, Wis., tapped into a deep well of anxiety over trillion-dollar deficits at home and the threat of debt-fueled calamity in Europe. Did he deliver a perfect plan? Not even he claims that. But Ryan, 41, offered a budget that began to convey the scale of change necessary to defuse the American debt bomb: Sweeping tax reform. Unprecedented spending freezes. Most important, a thorough reinvention of federal entitlements.