01/05/2011 05:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Budget-Cutter Paul Ryan Still Not Entirely Clear How He Plans To Cut The Budget

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, has generally been held out to be some genius solutioneer-in-waiting. And it seems to hardly matter a whit to anyone that his plans to cut taxes and rein in spending would raise taxes on most Americans and blow out the budget deficit. Ryan is handsome and personable and can talk in complete sentences, and these facts alone pretty much put him in the upper percentile of talent in just about any House of Representatives.

But we're still waiting for Ryan to sort of deliver on the hype, so I'm somewhat sympathetic to the frustrations felt by Matt Finkelstein, writing up this encounter between Ryan and Meredith Vieira for Political Correction:

MEREDITH VIEIRA (HOST): You say discretionary spending -- give me specifics. Where are you going to cut? Are you gonna cut transportation, education, Medicare -- what are you going to cut?

RYAN: That is what is gonna happen in the appropriations process down the road. So I can't tell you the answer to that because, as a budget committee person, we simply lower the cap and then those things go down. We're gonna be reducing all domestic discretionary spending. I can't tell you by what amount and which program, but all of it is going to be going down, and the aggregate amount will be back to 2008 levels before the spending binge occurred.

I understand what Ryan is driving at here -- as Budget chair, he's going to exercise some sort of newly-imagined unilateral and unchecked power to set budgetary levels and then, in a process that's technically distinct, the Appropriations Committee will make choices. And if Ryan wants to pretend that he doesn't meet in a "House Republican Conference" or have any specific discussions about what programs his colleagues plan to cut, that's his right, I guess. God knows Sunday-morning political chat-show viewers have been treated to an endless array of GOP figures who refuse to answer the question, "What will you cut?" because any answer to that question could cost them votes. I suppose there remains a possibility that to this day, none of them have any idea what to do!

But the whole reason that anyone invites Paul Ryan to come on the teevee and answer questions is because he is reputed to have authored "The Roadmap For America's Future." In the words of the Claremont Institute, the Roadmap is "ambitious, even audacious," its "details are extensive, and interesting," and it is the singular reason that Ryan is "famous." Now, the House GOP isn't obliged to adopt it, in its entirety -- in fact, resistance to the Roadmap begins with John Boehner. But surely Ryan is obliged to answer essential questions, like: "How do we get there from here?"

I mean, he authored the roadmap! Surely he has some sort of opinion on the matter, or can suggest some options. But his answers to Vieira -- he'll set an arbitrary budget level and the rest will take care of itself -- seem to pretend otherwise. If the passenger in my car asks me, "Which road are we taking to get to our destination?" it would probably be unnerving to hear me answer, "That will come about as a consequence of whatever steering happens. My job is simply to press the accelerator."

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