By Sarah Myers
House Speaker Paul Ryan announced this year that he won’t be seeking reelection, because he wants to spend more time with his family. Announcing the decision, he said “I like to think I’ve done my part.” And he has done his part—in creating a more unequal, unsustainable, bigoted America.
A long time ago, in 1998, Paul Ryan was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time. For more than a decade after Ryan arrived in Washington, he was part of a small group of far-right representatives. His vehement opposition to social programs like Medicare and Medicaid was abnormal and mildly concerning to the rest of the Republican caucus. Gradually, though, the Republican party shifted farther right, helped along by the Tea Party and Congressmen like Ted Cruz. In 2015, when Speaker John Boehner resigned and the Republican caucus tapped Ryan for the speakership, there were concerns that he was not far enough right.
The large scale political slide to the right, combined with the breach of decorum and standards that is Donald Trump’s presidency, makes it hard to remember exactly why we should be ashamed of Paul Ryan, but it’s time to remember. House Speakers don’t vanish into thin air when they stop running for reelection. Even Newt Gingrich, the first speaker to be sanctioned by the House following an ethics committee investigation which found that he had illegally claimed that a class he taught had status as a charity for tax purposes, clawed his way back onto the political scene to run for president, spew Republican talking points on Fox News, and support Trump.
So this is almost certainly not the last we’ll see of Paul Ryan. As we wait for his retirement, Fox News appearances and inevitable presidential campaign, let’s review some of his greatest hits.
During the Obama administration, Ryan had a borderline unhealthy obsession with budget deficits. He spent an impressive amount of time blocking anything that required money to be spent by the US government. He called himself “Paul Ryan Deficit Hawk.” As in, on Fox News, he said the words “Paul Ryan Deficit Hawk is also a growth advocate. Paul Ryan Deficit Hawk knows you have to have a faster-growing economy, more jobs, bigger take-home pay.”
Luckily for Paul Ryan Deficit Hawk, morals can change. Even ones that you use to create your own superhero name (to be fair, Paul Ryan Deficit Hawk is the worst possible knock off of Hawkeye anyway). Last year, Ryan was one of the key players in passing Trump’s new tax plan. You know, the one that cuts taxes on the rich and corporations but only gives the middle class temporary cuts and happens to increase the US Federal budget deficit by at least $1.7 trillion. Further back, Ryan also supported George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which have increased the budget deficit by roughly $5 trillion.
Those of us who understand basic math might notice that tax cuts increase the budget deficit unless they are accompanied by large spending cuts. And those large spending cuts have to be extraordinarily large. Currently, the federal government is already in debt. When the government has a budget deficit, that means there isn’t enough money to cover spending, so the government borrows money, which adds to the debt. That debt, like any other type of debt (student readers might find this particularly relatable), accrues interest. As the US continues to cut taxes and run deficits, our debt grows, as do the minimum necessary interest payments on that debt.
So Paul Ryan never actually wanted to balance the federal budget and get us out of debt. Or he might have, back in 1998, but he certainly doesn’t any more. Now, it would be more accurate to call him Paul Ryan Tax Cut Hawk. That’s not entirely fair, though: he does oppose some tax cuts. Specifically, he opposes refundable tax credits for the poor.
Of course, let’s not forget that Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill with Representative Todd Akin called the Sanctity of Life Act. The bill, which failed, was an unabashed assault on women’s right to choose whether to have a baby. Representative Todd Akin, who eventually failed to win an election, is an unabashed assault on human decency. He’s that crazy guy from 2012 who said “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” meaning that women don’t conceive unless they wanted to have sex.
Paul Ryan’s record on LGBTQ issues is just as bad. As Speaker, he’s blocked debate and voting on legislation that would extend federal anti-discrimination protections to cover people who experience discrimination because of their LGBTQ identity. He’s opposed same-sex marriage, allowing openly LGBTQ people to serve in the military, and legislation on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.
Paul Ryan may be able to speak in full, coherent sentences. He may even be able to pretend that he cares about marginalized groups. But that should not and cannot be enough for us to pretend that he is a good person. Ryan was part of the far-right fringe that pulled the Republican party away from centrist policies. As Speaker, he refused to stand up to Donald Trump. Throughout his career, he’s prioritized tax cuts and the desires of rich people while ignoring women’s rights, LGBTQ people and poor people. His legacy is shameful, and he deserves to be told that.
Contact Sarah Myers at smyers3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.