The Paul Ryan Vice Presidential Choice And The Other National Debt

No matter Mitt Romney’s running-mate candiate selection, cable news saturation of America for a couple days would have been and will be inevitable.

Especially when the Olympics has spun down to race-walking, and the Republicans’ political convention still sits two weeks away.

The choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is either genius because it unites mainstream and Tea Party Republicans and attracts those on the periphery, or it’s fatal because Romney nominated a version of himself that pushes the elderly over a cliff besides.

Either way, the R&R bumper stickers must already be printed.

I tend not to expect much from politics regardless, so personal passion is tempered. I might get more of a kick out of the next slick pic from Curiosity on Mars.

One profoundly good thing the Romney choice has done, though, is establish that this is an election about the economy, period; it’s not to be about growing defense spending, escalating the homeland security bureaucracy, or about pretending to handwring over cybersecurity and Internet privacy while authorizing drones and new TSA powers.

The election won’t be about whether flag-burning is unconstitutional, which Republicans will wait to resurrect once the economy improves.

The choice is the strongest signal yet that the conversation will be about the entitlement spending “iceberg” in the U.S. path, as I saw someone call it on Twitter. Whether inviting that as an explicit emphasis is a political liability remains to be seen; my office colleages hotly debate that, as many do all across the nation. Still, somebody had to address entitlements in America either now or later.

Ryan has liabilites from a pro-market, small “l” libertarian pespective–which is different from saying that such chauvanism on my part matters in an election; he may be a wonk, but not enough of one to articulate why not to vote for TARP in fundamental philosophical and economic terms. He tolerated auto bailouts and stimuli.

He wants to “save” great entitlement programs. My entire Social Security and Medicare reform plan consists of prohibiting the enrollment of little babies the day after they’re born in the hospital; it’s not complex to recognize that we don’t live forever and we don’t have to saddle future generations with mistakes made by modern and former politicians.

But Ryan does understand budgets, he wallows in them like an Alexander Hamilton; he may have had a more profound budget reform role to play in the House; I felt like he did and would’ve liked a different VP-candidate pick for that reason, to watch how general debates unfolded with Ryan occupying the budgetary perigee while candidates raged in everyone’s faces.

But on the other hand, in his inaugural speech in Norfolk the day of his selection as the veep candidate, he did tell small business in no uncertain terms that they did build it, in modern parlance. The significance of that as a concept will continue echoing through the remainder of this campaign.

My personal beef with Republicans remains that Congress must explicitly grapple with federal regulation and rarely does, and so cannot actually fix the economy. Businessmen did ”build it”, but if over-regulation persists, future ones will find it increasingly difficult to continue.

Hidden, unbudgeted compliance costs and economic impacts of federal regulation ring in at half the level of the spending budget itself (that’s equivalent to the budget of the 1990s, alas).

Republicans helped delegate a lot of this power to unelected agencies, and bear responsibility for modern problems. I called reforming regulation the least-sexy but most urgently needed reform in a Forbes column this past week.

Team R&R could balance the budget and we’d remain stagnant, in other words. Somebody has to talk about regulation, along with the entitlements and the rest of the “economy, stupid.”

Ryan can hit the regulation theme well when he wants to; he keynoted our “Mad Men-themed” Competitive Enterprise Institute Annual Dinner in Washington earlier this year. He stressed over-regulation and its impact on small business and jobs.

So here we are in 2012, in the early 21st Century; entitlements threaten the future of the U.S. But we can stop enrolling people in them.

Regulation is the other costberg in the way that remains ignored in general elections.

Someone with political heft must address those costs, and further, must articulate why not to extend that regulatory mindset to new wealth-creating frontiers; the ones we haven’t regulated yet, and ought not start to overburden.

With Ryan distracted by the bright lights, we’ll now need a new House Budget Committee guru.

But we also need a Regulatory Budget Committee guru, so the next generation of businessmen can “build that.”