NYT columnist David Brooks and Rep. Paul Ryan debate proper role of government

Kevin Brennan Contributor
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During a debate with New York Times columnist David Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute Thursday, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said Americans need to confront not just the size of government but its proper role.

“We should not be asking, ‘How big should our government be?’” Ryan said. “We should be asking, ‘What is our government for? What is the purpose?’”

Ryan, who will head the budget committee in the new Congress, and Brooks were there to argue limited versus energetic government. But Ryan called that premise a false choice and, instead, focused his remarks on competing philosophies of the purpose of government.

“The current president’s vision for this country represents a shift not just in the size of government but in the kind of government we have,” Ryan said. “I believe there is nothing to be gained by pretending to Americans that we do not face a stark choice between the two.”

Ryan cited the healthcare reform bill advanced by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats as evidence of a movement toward overreaching government. Ryan contrasted Obama’s philosophy with his own desire for greater individual freedom and limited government.

Brooks, a conservative commentator who supports many of Ryan’s entitlement reform proposals, said Ryan’s talk of an all-important philosophical choice between two visions of government limits his ability to find common ground with Democrats. Ryan’s rhetoric gets in the way of his reform efforts, Brooks argued.

“It makes compromise impossible. It makes politics impossible,” Brooks said. “I think it squanders this moment. We’re at a moment where the consciousness of this debt is so high.”

In his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” Ryan has proposed sweeping reforms of America’s entitlement programs to resolve the country’s growing deficit crisis. The ambitious plan has faced resistance even from some within his own party.

During one of the debate’s lighter points, Brooks referred to Ryan as “the most intellectually formidable member of the House.” Ryan quickly cut in and said, “That ain’t saying a whole lot.”

Ryan, who criticized the fiscal commission’s report earlier in the day, agreed with Brooks that the country faces a crucial moment, but the congressman argued that this fact makes the need to make a sharp change all the more crucial.

“Our debt situation is so bad and it compounds so viciously that we’ve got to settle this soon,” Ryan said.