Life will certainly be marginally easier for President Obama if his party holds on to the House (he won’t have to endure a spate of needling investigations, for one thing), but either way, the days of legislating through one-party governance are most likely coming to an end. If the president is to accomplish anything significant between now and the 2012 election, he will probably have to find the kind of deal-making adversary that Bill Clinton had after Democrats lost power in 1994 — a Newt Gingrich type who might bluster and brainstorm his way to compromise.
And this, perhaps, is where Paul Ryan becomes more significant.
Mr. Ryan, as you may have heard, is the Republican star of the moment. A 40-year-old from southeastern Wisconsin serving his sixth term in the House, Mr. Ryan has been getting a lot of attention for his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” an unusually austere proposal to vanquish the federal debt by, among other things, partly dismantlingSocial Security and Medicare as they currently exist.
Republicans admire the boldness of Mr. Ryan’s vision, even if his proposals are a little too bleak for the campaign trail. “He’s not saying the world’s going to be full of butterscotch sundaes,” is how Jeb Bush described the plan to me recently. “He’s saying: ‘Eat your broccoli. And then maybe you don’t get to eat at all for a few days. You don’t get steak — ever.’ ”
Liberals have taken note of Mr. Ryan’s road map, as well. Paul Krugman, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist, recently derided Mr. Ryan as a “flimflam man,” arguing that the tax cuts in his plan would ultimately make the debt worse. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, has attacked several Republican candidates for praising the plan, accusing them of wanting to roll back entitlements.
Let’s leave aside for now the debate over the viability of the road map, which, as a practical matter, doesn’t stand a chance of being enacted as is, anyway. The more pertinent question is whether Mr. Ryan is the kind of guy who just wants to make a point — or whether his road map represents the starting point in what could be a serious negotiation about entitlements and spending.