Rep. Paul Ryan, who has been in Congress for a little more than a dozen years, isn’t exactly an overnight success. But the Wisconsin lawmaker’s new status as unassailable GOP economic guru elevates the seven-term Congressman to a level that may be dangerous both for him and his party.
More than a few conservatives, from intellectual-turned-kingmaker Bill Kristol to writer and talking head Jonah Goldberg, have already urged Ryan to run for the White House next year.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin has written that “there is no good reason for Ryan to avoid a presidential run,” while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) recently seemed to invite the Midwesterner into the Republican race.
Ryan is obviously a bright, personable and articulate advocate for his cause, and he’s been preaching the same dogma of lower taxes and less spending since he won election to the House in 1998. His rise in the GOP hierarchy has been steady, dating almost from his first swearing-in.
As CQ’s Politics in America 2004 points out, after about a month on the job Ryan was selected by party leaders to give the GOP response to President Bill Clinton’s weekly radio speech.
After serving a term on the Budget, Oversight and Government Reform, and Financial Services committees, Ryan traded those assignments for a choice slot on the Ways and Means Committee. In 2005 he rejoined the Budget Committee, and two years later he became the ranking member.
Although only 41 years old, Ryan is a Capitol Hill veteran and clearly one of the leading lights of his party. It’s probably fair to say that he has already reached political stardom, but his star could well shine even brighter over the next 20 or 30 years.
Still, elevating Ryan to a point where it’s somehow sacrilegious to criticize him or question some of his arguments — or even to suggest that he must save his party by jumping into the presidential contest — isn’t healthy for Ryan or his party.
Parts of his record, after all, would make some of the people calling for his entry into the race blush.
The Wisconsin lawmaker is a fierce opponent of Obama administration spending and any suggestion of higher taxes, but he also voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which conservatives like to say “bailed out the banks,” the “auto bailout,” No Child Left Behind, the 2006 highway bill (with its “Bridge to Nowhere”) and the prescription drug benefit.
“It’s easy to vote against all of the Obama big spending items, but he voted for all the Bush-era big spending items,” said one conservative who wonders what all the hoopla over Ryan is about.
Ryan also has voted repeatedly against repealing Davis-Bacon, with its “prevailing wage” provision that is strongly supported by organized labor and is heresy to most free-market Republicans.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.