Paul Ryan and the Dysfunctional Republican Party

What does it mean to compromise? When is it right, and when is it wrong?

Consider the dysfunction in Washington DC right now. The dysfunction in the Republican Party is widely publicized and well known. Although Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives, and therefore have the ability to choose the Speaker of the House (next in line for the Presidency behind the Vice President), they have been unable to do so for weeks.

Now they have reluctantly agreed on Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who does not even seem to want the job.

The issue tearing the Republican Party apart is whether and when to compromise. The “establishment” or more moderate wing of the Republican Party, including people like the outgoing Speaker John Boehner and the next one, Paul Ryan, have said that opponents of compromise are the problem. “We have become the problem,” Ryan is lecturing the more principled members of his party, and his solution is “common sense conservatism,” which generally means going along to get along.

Is refusal to compromise really the problem? How can you compromise while still remaining true to your principles?

Let’s take an example. Let’s say you believe the government has grown way too much, does way too much, and spends and borrows way too much. This is what all Republicans always claim to believe.

When confronted with a situation where the President wants to spend and borrow without limit, and expand government power outside what’s specified in the Constitution almost without limit, then it’s an opportunity to hold to principle. It’s an opportunity to say, “We won’t budge an inch on your plans to increase spending, increase the debt, and expand the role of government. We will do everything in our power to reverse course, recognizing we won’t always get our way; but we will try. And we’ll never go in your direction.”

In practice, this would mean things like refusing to raise the debt limit, period. It would mean refusing to raise taxes, period. If that means massive spending cuts, so be it. That’s what Republicans claim to want, correct? Slowing the growth of government? It would mean using the ability of Congress (particularly with Republicans now controlling all of Congress) to limit spending, including on programs like Obamacare, which Republicans never supported and easily won control of Congress multiple times promising to defund.

It would also mean initiating positive steps, including but not limited to massive tax cuts, and proposed plans for the eventual privatization of Medicare and Social Security. These programs are the biggest budget-busting components of the federal budget, and they’ve got to be confronted. Granted, there’s no possibility a socialist-type president like Obama would ever support such plans. But Republicans could nevertheless push these plans so debate could at least be heard.

And Republicans should put their opponents on the defensive; for example, “How do YOU propose keeping Medicare and Social Security going when they’re clearly insolvent, by the numbers and statements of your own Treasury Secretary?” Republicans do none of this, not at the leadership level. And then they lecture their more principled members by telling them, in essence, “Just shut up and get with the program.” Outgoing Speaker John Boehner openly did this, and Paul Ryan appears set to do the same.

When you disagree with another party in principle, then there’s not a whole lot you can do – other than hold to your principle. But that’s everything. Otherwise, there would be no point in having a separate party in the first place.

Holding to principle is what Republicans have not done. They have caved to Obama on everything. This is what the minority in the Republican party does not like, and they’re entirely right.

When Ronald Reagan was president, he used to point out that the government could not spend a dime without the authorization of Congress, specifically the House of Representatives. He said this to express his frustration that he could not control spending in Congress as he would like.

While Obama has been president, has he faced any similar frustration with a Republican Congress? No way. Spending has escalated probably every bit as much as it would have under a Democratic Congress. The debt limit continues to rise, with no end in sight, as the United States becomes the most debt-ridden nation in human history .

In his remarks, Paul Ryan seems to be blaming members of the Republican “Freedom Caucus,” the ones who want the Republican Party to stop compromising, for the party’s problems. Yet they are merely stating the obvious. They’re complaining about the fact that the Republican Party does not act or function as a second party; it’s merely an extension of the Democratic Party. At times they might quibble over how much to increase spending and borrowing, but there’s never a question that the government will continue to expand, will continue to grow way beyond the boundaries and limits of the Constitution, and will raise the national debt (not to mention taxes eventually) into unsustainable territory.

It’s claimed that going along to get along with the Democrats’ agenda – which will continue to dominate even once Obama is out of office, unless you get a totally different agenda – is the more “practical” and “common sense” approach.

Yet how practical and common sensical is it to keep spending and borrowing in this way? How rational is that? And what about the effect this has on the economy, where all these problems lead to economic growth near stagnation, rather than the 4-8 percent growth per year it might be, and should be, in a free market economy with limited government?

We’re mostly fighting over immigration. Yet we fail to debate whether all these immigrants have much of an economy greeting them when they arrive in America. Maybe if we had a real, thriving and growing economy again, then immigration (at least aside from terrorists and criminals) would not have to be such an issue.

If Paul Ryan’s resentful and testy comments to the more principled members of his party are any indication, then nothing will change when he becomes Speaker of the House.

Republicans have yet to become a second party. You will know they are one when they’re finally able to elevate leaders who actually stand for principles of individual rights, private property and the required reductions in spending and debt to bring those principles to life.

You should never compromise on a principle. Democrats never have, and they never will. Republicans would do well to learn from them.

America suffers from a lack of leadership or hope because nobody, at least yet, will challenge the prevailing views about government and the Constitution in a principled way.


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