The Mandate

Even as Mitt Romney and his campaign surrogates seek to hypnotize persuadable voters with the repetitive drone of “economy…economy…economy” and suggest Mitt would spend all his time doing whatever it is presidents supposedly do to “fix” the economy, Paul Ryan has other ideas. At the Ronald Reagan presidential library yesterday, Ryan indicated that if Republicans win control of Congress in November, they’ll take it as a “mandate” to, well, enact his budget. Indeed, in a nod to his surroundings, Ryan paralleled what he and his allies intended to do with Reagan’s first year in office.

Well, the very idea sends chills down my spine.

Younger readers won’t remember this, but what the Reaganites, under the strategic direction of his budget director, David Stockman, were able to do in 1981 was pretty much unprecedented. Seizing on an unusual application of the obscure budget procedure known as “reconciliation,” the White House was able to enact a year’s worth–maybe two or three years’ worth–of legislation in one bill on an up-or-down vote. The use of reconciliation for giant budget packages has gradually declined over time, but it remains the ideal vehicle for getting big, complicated, controversial measures through Congress on a wave of hype and sloganeering–and without Senate filibusters. All it requires is a plan, party discipline, and united control of Congress and the White House. Republicans have already got the Ryan Budget, and have already demonstrated they are willing to vote for it almost unanimously. All they need now is the Senate and the White House. And Ryan’s laying the groundwork with GOP opinion-leaders to ensure they understand that the “unfinished business” of the Reagan Administration–the destruction of the New Deal/Great Society legacy–will be at hand in 2013.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.