Their recoil is, however, essential to the liberal project.
Ryan's supposedly radical idea is that people should shop for health insurance, with government subsidizing purchases by the less affluent. This would introduce what soon will be inevitable - means testing, aka progressivity.
But liberals reject it with a word the incantation of which suffices, they think, as an argument - "voucher."
This is peculiar because perhaps the most successful federal program of the 20th century was essentially a voucher program.
The purpose of the 1944 Servicemen's Readjustment Act - aka the G.I. Bill of Rights - was to facilitate demobilization by helping men and women acquire educations and buy houses - and hence form families.
The government did not build universities or houses. It, in effect, gave individuals conditional cash - vouchers - by helping to pay for home loans and college tuition.
Liberals' strenuous objection to vouchers is that vouchers, as the functional equivalent of cash, empower individuals to make choices.
It is the business of the liberals' administrative state, staffed by experts, to make choices for inexpert individuals.
This is why, while Democrats in Washington are working to reduce the portion of Americans' private income that is disposed of by private choices, two tentacles of the Democratic Party - the Indiana and Louisiana teachers unions - are currently in their states' courts waging futile fights against school choice programs, lest thousands of low- and moderate-income parents be as empowered as millions of demobilized servicemen were.
Washington's contentiousness about the "cliff" is producing a blizzard of numbers.
The argument, however, is not about this or that tax rate but about the nature of the American regime.
When the Republican House majority acts as though it has a mind - and a mandate - of its own, this is not Washington being "dysfunctional," it is the separation of powers functioning as the Founders intended.
Their system requires concurrent congressional majorities - one in the Senate, with its unique constituencies and electoral rhythms, another in the House, with its constituencies and rhythms.
And at least 219 of the 234 House Republicans won in November by margins larger than Obama's national margin.
George Will's email address is georgew...@washpost.com.