Paul Jacob

Maybe it was the smile that spread across my face, or the extra bit of jubilance with which I poured my cup of coffee, but whichever telltale mannerism alerted her, my daughter certainly noticed. Our telescreen had just announced that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) had been chosen by Mitt Romney to run as his Vice Presidential running mate.

“Is he good?” she asked.

Frankly, the budget-hawk Wisconsin congressman was immediately apparent as the best of the major party four: Obama, Biden, Romney, Ryan. Not even close, to be sure.

Figuring my little sunbeam didn’t want a 30-minute explanation, that’s basically what I told her.

Yes, I like Paul Ryan. You know, for a politician. Why? Because he, at least, is seriously talking about our country’s most severe concern: unsustainable government spending. Unlike so many mealy-mouthed Washington politicians, Ryan has crunched the numbers and written a budget blueprint that offers a more-or-less responsible way to restructure in-the-red programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

However, as I explained in my Common Sense e-letter, Ryan’s budget doesn’t balance for decades — possibly a half century. Solving the problem of debt mostly later, after many of us are dead and gone, sorta seems like a cop-out.

Not as much as having no plan or budget or clue at all is a bigger cop-out, mind you, so by Washington standards Ryan remains a giant.

But what about by our standards? By the standards of the electorate, or Republicans, or conservatives, or libertarians?

A sign posted and re-posted on Facebook, reads: “Paul Ryan voted for TARP, the auto bailouts, Medicare expansion, housing subsidies, unemployment extension, a national ID, making the Patriot Act permanent, surveillance without a warrant, No Child Left Behind, keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely, the 2008 and 2009 stimulus? Sounds perfect for Romney.”

It dawns on me, especially when explaining political reality to my children, that political reality just really stinks.

So, I’m be-bopping about this morning because, should Mitt Romney win the presidency, a politician I think is pretty straightforward has a chance to leave his post as House Budget Committee chair to take what John Adams called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

The United States of America is 16 trillion in debt and adding a trillion or more to the pile every year. Congress has made even bigger promises than those now bankrupting cities all across the country. Our current president wants to spend far more and to raise taxes to do it. Can my response as a citizen — no, dare I say a patriot? — be that I voted for a presidential candidate who at his best has named Paul Ryan to be his Vice?

Don’t get me wrong. I like Ryan, relatively, and applaud the pick. But it doesn’t do anything to save America. The Vice President can do little to bring even the 50-year Ryan “Path to Prosperity” into effect.

So, why is federal spending out of control? Because the federal government itself is so out of control. As I told my daughter, “We citizens have to become the movement that takes control over government spending and taxes. We can’t leave it to the politicians whose power derives from spending money.”

At the federal level, that’s proven awfully difficult to do, though I applaud the Club for Growth, the Coalition to Reduce Spending and the Tea Party for supporting and holding candidates’ feet to the fire on spending issues. Sadly, however, the choice on our ballots is usually one guy promising more government and debt versus another guy promising even more.

At the state and local level, where citizens enjoy the initiative process, they can act directly to restore sanity. This November, Michigan and Washington State voters will decide citizen initiatives that require new or increased taxes to garner a two-thirds vote of the legislature or be approved via a vote of the people.

Colorado voters enacted the best tax and spending policy in 1992 with an initiative called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The measure’s two essential elements are (1) taxes cannot be increased without voter approval and (2) spending growth from year-to-year is capped at inflation plus population growth. Spending can increase more rapidly only with voter approval, meaning politicians have to ask, not tell.

Imagine that policy at the federal level.

So, I told my daughter I’m counting on the voters (herself, soon enough) to hold government accountable, by taking the initiative, where we have it, and demanding the citizen check of initiative and referendum where we don’t yet.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.