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Opening Arguments

Diverging paths

I think the Washington Post's Dana Milbank has created a false choice here between "temperance" and "extremism":

For a dozen years, Paul Ryan and Mike Pence were Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives and fellow soldiers in the conservative movement. Last week, they parted ways: one toward temperance, the other toward extremism.

Pence chose the sensible path. Elected governor of Indiana in November, he delivered his first State of the State speech Tuesday, describing his proposed budget that, though a fiscally conservative plan, increases funds for education, job training, transportation, veterans, child-protective services and health care for the poor.

“Especially heartbreaking to this father,” Pence told Indiana legislators, “one in five Hoosier children lives in poverty. That is simply unacceptable.”

Contrast that with Ryan, the former vice presidential candidate, who, on the same day as Pence’s speech, took a radical step. As the price for getting restive House Republicans to go along with suspending the debt ceiling for three months, his office announced that Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, would produce a budget that ends deficits in 10 years — 16 years earlier than he had previously proposed. This would mean cutting all government operations by one-sixth — or, if Ryan exempts entitlement programs and defense, cutting all other government operations by nearly 40 percent.

Why this sharp split? To be sure, part of it is circumstance. The budget is already in balance in Indiana, where Pence’s predecessor, Mitch Daniels, did a lot of cutting; Pence can afford to be more generous.

But there is something deeper going on here, too. Pence, for the first time, is actually in charge. Because the state has a Republican legislature, his budget, or something close to it, will likely become law. He has real power, so he is acting responsibly.

Ryan and his fellow House Republicans, by contrast, know their budget will never become law. They are free to be as reckless as they want to be, to throw as many bombs as they wish.

The thing that's going on here is not a shift in either policy or temperament by Pence. It's just that the job of a governor and that of a legislator are vastly different. As one among many, a legislator can afford to wax philosophical, pushing the envelope as far to the extreme as he wants to, and still do his job of voting up or down on proposed legislation. As governor, though, Pence is the guy, the one person who has to keep the whoels of state government turning. The job is by nature a more pragmatic one.

But that doesn't mean Pence will necessarily back away from his conservative family values issues. He doesn't have to actually push something; all he has to do is sign whatever comes across his desk. As a matter of fact, he can afford to let likeminded legislators carry the water on those issues while he concentrates on all that temperate stuff.