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July 25, 2014 10:51 AM Has Ryan Regained His Pointy-Headedness?

By Ed Kilgore

Aside from the policy implications of Paul Ryan’s new poverty plan, and its collision with the fiscal priorities he so recently championed, Ross Douthat raises the internal GOP question of whether he’s now assumed leadership of the reformicons who had more or less given up on him. The answer from Ross is a pretty emphatic “yes:”

Taken as a whole, this document basically eliminates the daylight that existed between “Ryanism” and reform conservatism on safety net reform. As I discussed two weeks ago, the reformocon quasi-movement has tended to view some of the projected discretionary cuts in the Ryan budgets as implausible and/or unnecessary, and generally prefers a revenue-neutral overhaul of the safety net that spends more on some programs (an E.I.T.C. expansion or wage subsidy, most notably) while cutting others and devolving others to the states. That’s basically what Ryan is proposing here, in a more detailed form than we’ve seen from any other figure of his stature to date, which means that there is now pretty clear unity (on this set of issues) between the House Budget chairman and the wonks who have praised him on entitlement reform, health care reform and other issues in the past.
At the same time, Ryan’s blueprint synthesizes “reformocon” ideas with proposals that fit pretty easily under the other possible rubric for a renovated conservative domestic policy — libertarian populism, a framework associated with writers like Ben Domenech and Conn Carroll and Tim Carney, and one that’s been much discussed in this space. That is, in addition to the safety-net overhaul, Ryan includes proposals for criminal-justice reform, cuts to corporate welfare, and an attack on “regressive regulations” like occupational licensing — all areas where libertarian ideas might help move the G.O.P. away from its “party of the rich white people” brand, and/or where a libertarian critique of state power is plausibly connected to the interests of the working class and poor. (Utah Senator Mike Lee has also been working toward this kind of synthesis; it’s his sentencing reform proposal that Ryan endorses.) It’s always been clear, I think, that the two varieties of reform can overlap in productive ways; this is a case study in what that might look like.

Douthat even gives Ryan credit for creating the “policy space” for reformicon ideas by going after Medicare and (back in 2005) Social Security, showing where the money would come from for “reformed” social spending. So I guess all the nastiness associated with him was just a big prelude to this moment.

I expect to hear renewed talk about Ryan ‘16 any day now. And he didn’t even have to make a trip to Iowa.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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