December 5, 2018

Paul Ryan’s Tarnished Speakership

Despite his reputation as a budget hawk, Ryan watched as spending skyrocketed again.

The curtain is officially closing on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s 20-year congressional career. The Wisconsin Republican, who opted against pursuing another term last April, won’t be among the ranks of the new Congress, which gets underway a month from now.

The retiring lawmaker was a notorious spending- and entitlement-reform hawk, particularly during his time as chairman of the House Budget Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. Conservatives hoped that his maverick-style devotion to budget equilibrium would translate into pivotal changes as speaker of the House. Unfortunately, these budgetary revamps remained virtually elusive.

For the record, Ryan was never enthralled with the idea of being the top Republican in the House. In 2015, he opined, “I’m a policy guy, so I think I can do the most good for the country at Ways and Means. It’s the job I always wanted, and it allows me to focus on the issues that are really important for our future.” Nevertheless, he acquiesced, officially succeeding former House Speaker John Boehner on Oct. 29, 2015. The rest is a regretfully tarnished history, which even he acknowledges.

According to Ryan, “On health care itself and debt and deficits, it’s the one that got away.” That’s putting it mildly. Last year’s health care debacle was a massive humiliation for Republicans, even if Ryan and the House did move the ball forward. ObamaCare is an ever-worsening driver of debt — not to mention a blight to medical consumers — yet the golden opportunity to repeal it was unnecessarily botched.

Even defunding Planned Parenthood was ultimately considered too politically cumbersome.

And then there’s the national debt, which swelled by roughly $2 trillion while Ryan was in charge. This was exacerbated by a $341 billion increase in the deficit as of fiscal year 2018. By fiscal year 2019, another $202 billion is calculated to be tacked on. Beyond that, $1 trillion deficits will return, which will, of course, be (re)magnified by incoming spendthrift House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

None of this makes for a superlative legacy for Ryan, particularly when the evidence flies in the face of admirable tendencies. In fairness, the voters who elected Trump did not necessarily want budget cuts. Ryan was swimming upstream against his own party, president, and voters. But assuming the speakership means doing the hard bidding. Sadly, Ryan ultimately went down the same path as Boehner did.

Whatever Paul Ryan decides to do after his congressional career concludes, we hope that it will encompass fighting from the outskirts for conservative values for which he is known — even if it it wasn’t always obvious as speaker of the House.

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