Paul Ryan claims to be a huge fan of novelist Ayn Rand, the libertarian favorite whose books and essays celebrated bold and unexpected acts of rebellion against autocrats and authoritarians
The House Budget Committee chair positions himself as such a Randifarian that he requires his staff to read the Russian immigrant’s objectivist tracks.
But, while Rand at her best celebrated creative dissent, Ryan’s got a big problem with it—a big-government problem.
The congressional prima donna was set to take his star turn Friday, with the easy passage of a plan that begins the process of privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—not for the purpose of balancing the budget but rather to steer federal funds into the coffers of the Wall Street speculators who have funded Ryan’s rise to political prominence.
Conservatives of a more genuinely libertarian bent proposed a set of far deeper spending cuts than Ryan and his corporate benefactors desired. The Wisconsin Republican and his corporate compatriots decided to let the plan for draconian cuts advanced by the right-wing Republican Study Committee go to a vote—along with proposals by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus for more humane budgeting. The presumption was that the game was rigged so that only Ryan’s proposal would prevail.
But that presumption relied on an assumption: that House Democrats would vote against the Republican Study Committee (RSC) proposal. In that calculus, the combination of “no” votes from completely corporate Republicans like Ryan and dissenting Democrats would stop the more genuinely conservative plan from advancing.
But the Democrats decided not to play the part Ryan had scripted for them.
Instead, toward the close of the vote on the RSC proposal, the Democrats started switching from “no” votes to simple declarations that they were “present.”
As a result, it looked for a few moments like the RSC proposal was going to pass—putting the House Republicans on record in support of the sort of sweeping cuts in government programs that the GOP’s more libertarian members imagine are necessary. That’s quite distinct from the scheme advanced by Ryan, a key backer of the 2008 bank bailout, to begin steering all that Social Secuirty, Medicare and Medicaid money to Wall Street, speculators and profiteers who are his political base.
Ultimately, 172 Democrats voted present.
That meant that the RSC plan had to be blocked by Republicans who claim to be ant-big government conservatives. And so it was, as key Republicans such as Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-California, and Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, another member of GOP leadership team, led the race to switch votes.
When it was clear there were enough Republican votes to block the bill—at a point where 120 GOP memners have voted “no” to 119 who had voted “yes”—Ryan started screaming to the presiding officer: “Shut it down!”
Suddenly Paul Ryan became Big Brother.
The Budget Committee chair was desperate to close the vote before any more Democrats could switch from “no” votes to those declarations of “present.” (Sixteen Democrats were finally record as voting “no.” If just two of them had cast mischievous “yes” votes while the rest switched to present, the Republicans would have been stuck with a plan that made drastic cuts to government programs, but that did not so smoothly implement Ryan’s scheme for a further redistribution of the wealth upward.)
“Shut it down!” screeched Ryan. “Shut it down!”
The Wisconsin congressman was determined to stop the voting process immediately.
Big Brother was not about to lose control of the process he had rigged to deliver for his political benefactors.
He needed to prevent a bold act of dissent that exposed his hypocrisy.
And he succeeded.
But not without revealing himself as an authoritarian who was not about to let his best-laid plans be upset by an act of creative rebellion.
Ayn Rand once wrote: “Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives.”
Paul Ryan’s power-lust was certainly on display Friday. As for stupidity, well, Ryan certainly thinks that most Americans, and most Republicans, are stupid enough to fall for his power grab.
He’s definitely wrong about the American people; polls show they are overwhelmingly opposed to any plans that assault Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And he’s wrong about at least some Republicans.
When Ryan’s plan finally came up for a vote, 189 Democrats voted “no.” So. too, did four Republicans, including the most genuinely libertarian members of the party caucus, including Texas Congressman Ron Paul.