Romney's Veep Pick, Rep. Paul Ryan, a 'Double-Edged Sword'

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — Even before Wisconsin sent Paul Ryan to Congress, he was meticulously carving a path that seemed to point only upward.

As a young Capitol Hill staffer, he impressed Republican lawmakers with his hustle and intellectual curiosity. He blended quickly with an elite crop of conservative thinkers. By his 30s, he was a congressman on his way to becoming a GOP name brand with his push-the-edge budget proposals.

Ryan's climb reached new heights Saturday when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced him as his running mate.

"Mitt's Choice for VP is Paul Ryan," said a phone app Romney's team created to spread the word to supporters.

As the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan gives Romney a link to Capitol Hill leadership and underscores Romney's effort to make the election a referendum on the nation's economic course. Romney also could see his standing improve in Wisconsin, a state President Barack Obama won handily four years ago but that could be much tighter this November.

Even so, Ryan has been a double-edged sword for Romney. The congressman's endorsement of Romney came at a critical stage of the GOP primaries, giving him a boost in the Wisconsin race that effectively buried Romney's final threat. But it also meant Romney was embracing the Ryan-sponsored budget proposal that Democrats fiercely target as painful to the poor and elderly.

Still, the square-jawed congressman is viewed as a bridge between the buttoned-up GOP establishment and the riled-up tea party movement.

At 42, Ryan has spent almost half of his life in the Washington fold, the last 14 representing a southern Wisconsin district that runs from the shores of Lake Michigan through farm country south of Madison.

Ryan grew up in Janesville and still lives just down the block from where he spent his boyhood. During summers in college, Ryan was a salesman for Oscar Mayer and once drove the company's famed Wienermobile.

Ryan's father, a lawyer, died of a heart attack when Ryan was a teenager. It's why Ryan is a fitness buff, leading fellow lawmakers through grueling, early-morning workouts and pushing himself through mountain climbs.

That same intensity propelled him on the political front, too.

He was first exposed to Congress as a summer intern to former Sen. Robert Kasten, R-Wis. With an economics degree in hand, Ryan worked his way through committee staff assignments, a prominent think tank and top legislative advisory roles until opportunity arose with an open seat from his home turf. He leveraged Washington connections, local ties forged through the family construction business and the backing of anti-abortion groups en route to his surprisingly comfortable victory.

As a 28-year-old, Ryan entered Congress brimming with idealistic views about forcing government to become leaner and less intrusive, principles he thought even fellow Republicans were abandoning too readily.

"One of the first lessons I learned was, even if you come to Congress believing in limited government and fiscal prudence once you get here you are bombarded with pressure to violate your conscience and your commitment to help secure the people's natural right to equal opportunity," Ryan wrote in a 2010 book.

Critics question Ryan's own consistency. They note that he backed a costly prescription drug benefit during Republican George W. Bush's presidency that added strain to the Medicare budget, which Ryan touted at the time as "one of the most critical pieces of legislation" enacted since he joined Congress. He said in a June interview with The Associated Press that he took a "defensive" vote to ward off a more expensive Senate version. More recently, Ryan served on a bipartisan presidential debt commission but balked at its report because a tax increase was on the menu of options.

He is a disciple of and past aide to the late Rep. Jack Kemp, once a GOP vice presidential nominee himself who effusively promoted tax cuts as a central tenet for economic growth.

From the title page of his idyllic "Path to Prosperity" budget plan down to the most scrutinized fine print, Ryan is adept at framing proposals in the most pleasant terms.

Ryan's opponents charge that his call to open Medicare to more private competition is too risky even if implementation would be a ways off; he counters that the latest version was fashioned in consultation with prominent Democrats in hopes of heading off an all-out program collapse that would devastate the financial security of future retirees. Foes say his plans to scale back food stamps and housing assistance are mean-spirited; Ryan describes the moves, which would allow states to further customize their welfare programs while imposing tougher time limits and work requirements, as empowerment for the downtrodden who he argues are being lulled into lives of complacency and dependency.

It took time for Ryan's own party to get fully behind his ideas. A few years ago, when Ryan first proposed dramatic changes to entitlement programs like Medicare some in the GOP were skittish because Democrats pounced on the plans as undermining the health program accessed by millions of retirees.

Kasten said Ryan's refusal to back down paid off politically.

"If all the sudden you become the dartboard for everyone on the left and you are willing to stand there and take the heat and the darts, you develop a tremendous amount of respect even from those who are throwing the darts," Kasten said. "In the beginning it's a grudging respect. It grows into a true respect."

Ryan has let opportunities to advance come and go, most recently when he opted not to seek an open U.S. Senate seat. His young family factored into his considerations; he and wife, tax attorney Janna, have a daughter and two sons, ages 10, 8 and 7.

Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Matthew Daly in Washington and Kasie Hunt in Norfolk, Va., contributed to this report.


goldeneagle97 10 years, 3 months ago

I believe Obama has been handed re-election now.


tstauffer 10 years, 3 months ago

Yup, this one is certainly interesting. Romney has certainly just excited the base -- of both parties. Ryan will probably be a fund-raising bonanza for both Romney ... and Obama. He might be able to deliver Wisconsin from the safe-Obama column, except that he's only marginally more popular than he is unpopular in Wisconsin.

But the fact that Romney needed to excite his base this late in the election -- and do so in a way that will likely alienate women, aging voters and working-class swing voters -- is bizarre. And it's interesting to consider the very strong possibility that his V.P. might easily overshadow his own candidacy. (Romney's people have reportedly already put out talking points saying that this doesn't mean Romney is fully embracing the Ryan budget. That, of course, forces the question of what other legitimate reason there would be for naming him.)

Bottom line -- the only other man in the known universe who has a "-Care" named after him just named John Galt as his vice president. It's hard to interpret that as anything other than a Hail Mary.


donnaladd 10 years, 3 months ago

I'm astounded that, among other things, a man who would ban THE PILL and in vitro fertilization is a major-party candidate for vice president. Just stunning. Romney definitely went shopping on the fringe for this one: the dude who protests the abortion clinic every day will be thrilled, though. He and his wife also would see the pill banned.


brjohn9 10 years, 3 months ago

There is much less to Ryan than meets the eye. His "deficit-reduction plan" doesn't balance the budget for 28 years, because it slashes taxes so much on the wealthy. He relies on magical thinking to suppose that cutting taxes will actually raise revenues, while refusing to specify which tax loopholes he would close. His worst failure is in his plan for Medicare. Medicare drives future deficits because all healthcare costs are rising faster than inflation. Ryan's solution to this problem is no solution. He simply dumps the problem onto seniors, leaving them to figure out a way to pay the difference between their Ryan voucher and the cost of private insurance.

Somehow, this man is lionized for his bravery, but his plan is a fraud. Democrats are going to go after him with everything they've got.


donnaladd 10 years, 3 months ago

The lionization part reminds me of some folks' blind devotion of Frank Melton. Just because he said exactly what they wanted to hear, they believed him and thought him such a genius even as his rhetoric and "plan" didn't make a lick of sense.

What's crazy with Ryan's extremism is how many people who are cheerleaded it would actually be hurt by it. We really don't need to make it THAT easy for the uber-uber-wealthy to fool us, do we?


tstauffer 10 years, 3 months ago

The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/business/a...">crunched the numbers and came up with this fun statistic for the Ryan Budget -- if it was in effect in 2010, which is the only full tax return of Romney's we have to go by, he would have paid less than one percent as an effective tax rate:

In 2010 -- the only year we have seen a full return from him -- Romney would have paid an effective tax rate of around 0.82 percent under the Ryan plan, rather than the 13.9 percent he actually did. How would someone with more than $21 million in taxable income pay so little? Well, the vast majority of Romney's income came from capital gains, interest, and dividends. And Ryan wants to eliminate all taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends.

What I keep failing to understand about all of these tax proposals is the desire to do away with capital gains taxes, where you could see some significant revenues raised to help balance the budget without unduly harming the working middle class in this country. Instead the plan is to cut capital gains taxes and close "loopholes" like the mortgage interest deduction? I'm not sure why anyone with an actual job and a house note would support this guy's plan?


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