Cross-posted from The Nation
Paul Ryan has had his eyes on Social Security for a long time.
In 2001, when Republicans controlled the presidency and were well positioned on Capitol Hill, Ryan was invited to the White House to present ideas to the new Bush-Cheney administration.
The well-regarded second-term congressman met with Vice President Dick Cheney, who was at the peak of his co-presidency powers. Like Cheney in his younger years, Ryan was a former congressional aide who had worked the conservative think-tank circuit before getting himself elected to the House. The Washington insiders should have gotten on famously.
But the vice president was not buying what the man, who is now described as "the intellectual leader of the Republican Party," was selling.
Ryan recalls the meeting this way:
"'The surplus has given us a huge opportunity,' I explained. 'If we dedicate the Social Security surplus to reform, we can shore up the program and end the raid on the trust fund.' I talked about the opportunity to create a real ownership society, how workers could actually own a piece of the free enterprise system through these reforms. As soon as I finished my pitch, Vice President Cheney said, 'Yeah, we're not going to do that.' Then he looked at the person sitting next to me, signaling that he was ready to hear the next idea. His terse reply was the verbal equivalent of someone swatting an annoying mosquito from his face.'"