Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate gives the GOP ticket a policy wonk, a young rising star in Congress and a politician willing to take on more difficult issues. But it also gives Democrats an easy target for campaign criticism.
Ryan is best known for his budget plan, which seeks to reduce the size of the federal government and tackle the intractable problems of deficit spending, national debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare. Democrats have already gone after the Ryan plan, accusing the Republicans of proposing to eliminate Medicare and Social Security. It's the same old criticism heard whenever anyone proposes changes that will make the two programs viable for the long term. (Note: an Associated Press story today warns that Social Security is already dipping into its three-decade-long surplus, and that surplus will run out in 2033.)
Ryan and other Republicans should have no problem pointing out that their Democratic critics have not proposed any solutions to the Social Security/Medicare dilemma. Their strategy apparently is to ignore the problems until they go away. This is an issue that should have been addressed decades ago. Each year that goes by makes it more difficult to come to a less-painful and more sustainable solution. Ryan's proposal has its flaws, but at least he's sticking his neck out and proposing something.
But Ryan's budget plan Republicans are so enamored of is not nearly so bold as his admirers claim. He proposes reducing tax rates and making up lost revenue by closing "tax loopholes," but he never says what loopholes he's close. Without that critical detail, his tax proposals are squeamish, not bold. Ryan also proposes a flattening of tax rate, reducing the already-reduced progressive ideal of the income tax, and he has shown little willingness to compromise with Democrats on this issue.
The key to any vice presidential choice is whether the selection will help the ticket. Two days after Romney's choice, it's too early to tell whether Ryan will pass that crucial test.