Jerry Brown and Paul Ryan – Two of a Kind (on Subsidiarity)

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Governor Jerry Brown and House Speaker Paul Ryan both offered support for the principle of subsidiarity — simply stated as decentralizing power and moving decision making to the lowest possible authority.

Brown’s record on upholding this philosophy is spotty at best. Ryan’s record is yet to be established.

Brown first publicly applied the term subsidiarity in discussing the state budget three years ago. At the time, as Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters explained, the origins of the word involved Catholic doctrinal history developed by 20th-century German theologian, Oswald von Nell-Breuning.

Using the philosophy to push prison realignment and later school reforms, Brown eliminated state ordered spending mandates while directing block grants to poor and non-English speaking students.

Paul Ryan used the term in what Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker described as the speaker’s quest to reinvent the Republican Party “by creating a new governing template.”

For Ryan’s purposes, according to Parker, “subsidiarity means that Ryan is taking a bottom-up approach to leadership. This means that debating and promulgating policy proposals take place at the committee level, where a more diverse cross-section of voices and ideas can be aired.”

Similar concept to Brown’s—more control at the lower level.

Will Ryan consistently be able to employ the subsidiarity philosophy as he attempts to control a notoriously fractured Congress?

Brown may espouse the philosophy but he doesn’t always carry it forth.

The most recent example is when Brown signed the one-size-fits-all minimum wage law. He could have stuck to his original instincts to leave the minimum wage issue to local jurisdictions. However, as with other issues in which the governor has veered away from the subsidiarity philosophy, union pressure was involved.

As Walters noted in a later column on the subsidiarity philosophy, “Brown baldly violated that (subsidiarity) principle when, pressured by unions, he signed legislation last year to limit local school district budget reserves.”

He also signed legislation to undermine local authorities’ self-determination when it came to prevailing wage laws.

Brown and Ryan may use the same word, but how they employ the philosophy behind the word just might be worlds apart.

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