Why Paul Ryan Wasn't the Right Person to Go After Obama's Decision to Ignore Simpson-Bowles


Yesterday I noted GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan's decision to criticize President Obama for ignoring recommendations made by his own debt commission's, but without noting that Ryan served on that same commission and voted against it. Since then I've seen a number of folks defend Ryan's attack. The argument is that even there were problems with the Simpson-Bowles plan, Obama used the debt commission process to avoid responsibility for having to take action to reduce federal debt, and that justifies Ryan's criticism. 

I don't entirely disagree. Obama has obviously been totally out to lunch on debt reduction. His so-called "plan" is the legislative equivalent of a not very funny joke. His commitment to debt reduction is half hearted at best, and verges on misleading. And he obviously used the debt commission as a ruse to duck the issue for a while. For roughly a year before he decided to pass on the Simpson-Bowles recommendations, he held up the commission process as his primary response to the debt, promising to take it serious. "This can't be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem," he said in the 2010 State of the Union address. But as it turns out, that's exactly what it was. 

By the same token, I think Ryan's reasons for voting against Simpson-Bowles are mostly defensible: There's a lot to like about the shape of the proposal, especially in the way it reforms the tax code. But it didn't substantially tackle health care, which, when it comes to debt, is pretty much the whole ballgame. 

So I actually think it's reasonable to both find Simpson-Bowles underwhelming as a debt deal and to criticize President Obama for using the debt commission process to evade responsibility for dealing with the federal debt. 

But Paul Ryan is the wrong person to make that argument. Crafting a big, debt-related gotcha line out of the president's refusal to follow a debt panel's recommendations without mentioning his own participation on the panel and vote against its recommendations does not exactly sound like the kind of bold truthtelling and responsibility taking that Ryan, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and much of the rest of the GOP have spent the last week promising. There are numerous better ways to go after Obama on the debt than this, which essentially amount to: "My opponent didn't follow the recommendations of a panel I was on and voted against."