When deficit warrior Paul Ryan came to Congress in 1999, the national debt was $5.6 trillion. When House Speaker Paul Ryan leaves in 2019 (he announced his retirement on Wednesday), the figure will be about $22 trillion.
From his arrival in Washington, then as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, and until the Republican Party captured the White House and held both chambers of Congress in 2016, Ryan was known as the GOP’s grown-up in the room and a principled conservative. He got the numbers, and his “Path to Prosperity” proposals added up, if only because they were too optimistic about the benefits of tax cuts for the rich.
Ryan’s theoretical road maps balanced because they included huge cuts, not just reforms, in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending, along with nearly every other federal assistance program. But while Americans like the slogan “smaller government,” they vehemently oppose cuts to entitlements. One of Donald Trump’s great advantages in the battle for the GOP nomination was his realization that even Republican voters don’t want such cuts, and would punish candidates who promised them. And Ryan’s greatest failure was his inability to stand up to Trump on economics, or anything else.
With no way to pay for tax cuts and spending increases, a principled conservative would have stopped them. Instead, Ryan put tax cuts for the rich benefactors of his party above all else. He can’t take all the blame — but neither can he avoid it all.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN NEWSDAY