Mr. Ryan’s budget “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,” the bishops wrote in an April letter to the House. “These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”

Mr. Ryan responded that he was helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on the government. And yet he has failed to explain how he would make them self-sufficient — how, in fact, a radical transformation of government would magically turn around an economy that is starving for assistance. At a time when state and local government layoffs are the principal factor in unemployment, the Ryan budget would cut aid to desperate governments by at least 20 percent, far below historical levels, on top of other cuts to mass transit and highway spending.

Those are the kinds of reductions voters of all income levels would actually feel. People might nod their heads at Mr. Romney’s nostrums of smaller government, but they are likely to feel quite different when they realize Mr. Ryan plans to take away their new sewage treatment plant, the asphalt for their streets, and the replacements for retiring police officers and firefighters.