Who is Paul Ryan?


As you’ve likely heard by now, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced this weekend that Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would be his running mate. Ryan, a practicing Catholic, is best known for his work as chairman of the House Budget Committee; his proposals have made him a favorite of conservatives and a despised enemy of liberals.

Before we evaluate Ryan’s record, though, you should study the USCCB’s voting guide, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” I’ve recommended that document before, and you can view the whole thing here. It should help you evaluate both political parties with appropriate skepticism.

And now, on to Ryan. Here’s where the legislator stands on the major issues (in alphabetical order).

Abortion – His congressional voting record is 100% pro-life, according to the National Right to Life Committee. Pro-life groups are excited that Romney chose Ryan as a running mate, given that Romney’s record on abortion has been less consistent. President Obama is pro-abortion and has never supported any restriction on the practice. Granted, a president cannot outlaw abortion by executive fiat, but there are measures he can take to discourage it.

Budget/safety net/taxes – In a word, it’s complicated. Ryan is most famous for his controversial budget proposal, which he calls the Path to Prosperity. The plan would entail drastic cuts in nearly all areas of government spending (including safety-net programs), which thrills conservatives and terrifies liberals. Ryan argues that his plan is in line with Catholic social teaching; the bishops and other Catholics beg to differ. This issue deserves a wider treatment beyond the scope of this blog post; for now, here’s another critique of Ryan’s plans and another defense.

Presumably because of the Ryan plan’s unpopularity, Romney has distanced himself from it, claiming that “as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance.” But he has also promised (implausibly) to cut taxes, which I think is the height of imprudence given our current deficit and unfunded liabilities. Ryan generally opposes raising taxes, though in the past he has been open (unlike most conservatives) to a value-added tax. So we don’t know for sure exactly how a Romney/Ryan administration would handle the budget and try to close the deficit, but we can safely say that they would favor spending cuts over tax increases. Obama, of course, is willing to see taxes rise in order to protect safety-net programs, and he emphasizes his desire for the rich to contribute more.

Foreign policy/wars – Given that he has devoted his congressional career to the budget, Ryan isn’t really known for his foreign policy views. He seems to be a normal Republican in this sphere, which means he (and Romney) would probably be similar to Obama — and that’s not a good thing, given the latter’s unconstitutional and immoral record on the use of drone strikes.

Health care – A major component of Ryan’s budget plan is its healthcare overhaul, which would restructure Medicare pretty dramatically (arguably, that’s necessary). Oddly enough, some have argued that Ryan’s Medicare plan resembles Obama’s health reform. Romney has pledged to repeal said reform without elaborating on how he’d replace it. Still, Ryan’s evolution on health care (from 2010 to his more recent bipartisan proposal) implies that he’s willing to be flexible. Obama’s health reform prioritizes the expansion of coverage, which is a longtime goal of the USCCB, yet remains flawed (on religious liberty, abortion, and various health care policy issues).

Immigration – Ryan opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, a position that puts him at odds with the USCCB. Obama recently decided to stop the deportation of young illegal immigrants, but his administration has also deported record numbers of illegal immigrants; comprehensive immigration reform was apparently not a top priority during his first term.

Judges – Appointing federal judges — especially to the Supreme Court — is one major way that presidents shape the nation’s political future for years beyond their time in office. A Romney/Ryan administration would appoint more pro-life judges than the Obama/Biden administration would, and pro-life judges are crucial to the success of efforts to restrict abortion and eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.

Marriage – Unlike Obama, who supports gay marriage, Ryan has voted multiple times to protect traditional marriage.

Religious liberty – Ryan co-sponsored the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which “would amend the President’s health care law to permit a health plan to decline coverage of specific items and services that infringe upon one’s religious beliefs” (according to his website). Essentially it would widen the exemption to the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate (more here from the USCCB). That bill has not become law, but it’s safe to say that a Romney/Ryan administration would be far more accommodating of the Church’s religious liberty concerns than the Obama administration has been.

Bottom line: As always, neither candidate for president is perfect — and in fact, I’d say our two major choices are gravely flawed. Whichever way the election turns out, your lobbying (contacting your congressional representatives, signing petitions, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, etc., to highlight issues of importance) could be as important as casting a ballot. Feel free to argue with gusto about everything I’ve said in the comments section, but please try to write under the charitable assumption that I and your political opponents are neither evil nor stupid.

P.S. The title of this post is a reference to Ayn Rand, an author Paul Ryan has famously and unfortunately said he admires. For another perspective, Stephen Kokx argues at CatholicVote that it’s not fair to assume that Ryan would emulate her in the public policy arena.


This article originally appeared at Ignitum Today.


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  • fishman

    When choosing a candidate the bishops instruct us to choose the less evil candidate ( or the most good as the case may be).

    The math is simple enough.
    Abortion has killed or 35million people and the next president will have the ability to put a legal end to it.
    ( will he, we can only hope.)

    Tell me what other evil a person can support that is equivalent to abortion? or what good they can support that can be balanced against the death of 35 million completely innocent human souls?

    Then we can discuss if there should even be a discussion.

    Honestly unless both candidates are pro-life catholic moral teaching demands we dismiss the candidate who support whole sale murder.

    • Thanks for your comment. But how will the next president have the ability to put a legal end to abortion? An executive order of some sort would not suffice, given the Supreme Court’s unmistakable rulings over the last few decades. I’m afraid the only way abortion will end is if there is a pro-life majority in Congress AND a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court. Even given those factors, I would not vote for a pro-choice candidate; however, I think those factors do complicate the situation, so the arithmetic is not as simple as you suggest.

  • fishman

    Also, from the document quoted:
    “”When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise, or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia. . . . Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death” (Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, no. 4).”

    Can anyone take seriously a candidate who has no concern for the essence of moral law? Would you seriously ever consider voting for a candidate who suffered from that kind of insanity? Could they ever be fit to hold authority over others, when they don’t recognize the basic ontological situation of the human race?

  • To me the central question is whether Ryan is a faithful Catholic or a cafeteria Catholic. So far I’ve heard nothing about his opinion on birth control, for example, which is usually the canary in the coal mine for discerning whether someone is faithful to Church teaching in all matters.

    I believe that dramatic steps are required right now if we are to put the country back on a solid fiscal footing. If Ryan is faithful, I’d trust him in high office, given especially that he is the architect of a reasonable plan to restore the country’s finances.

    If Ryan is another Biden, it would be a grave disappointment.

  • noelfitz

    It is encouraging to read here “Feel free to argue with gusto about everything I’ve said in the comments section”.

    Is it true that Mitt Romney has distanced himself from Paul Ryan’s budget plans? In a Romney/Ryan administration will Medicare be cut and Social Security be less secure? Will those earning less than $250000 per annum pay more taxes, while those earning more than a million dollars per annum will have great tax advantages?

    I read (http://www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-063.cfm):
    [T]he U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote several letters that repeated and reinforced the bishops’ ongoing call to create a “circle of protection” around poor and vulnerable people and programs that meet their basic needs and protect their lives and dignity. The bishops’ message calls on Congress and the Administration to protect essential help for poor families and vulnerable children and to put the poor first in budget priorities. The bishops’ letters oppose measures that reduce resources for essential safety net programs.

    Would you agree with the bishops?

    • Yes, I basically agree with the bishops and oppose Ryan’s budget plans. There are ways to move toward a balanced budget (Ryan’s goal) without slashing safety net programs to the extent that he does. Romney has tried to distance himself from Ryan’s budget plans, yes. But probably they would still pursue tax cuts and try to decrease federal spending if they were elected. I think federal spending could be reduced in a just manner, but I definitely would not reduce it merely in order to fund tax cuts.

      That said, the Church still teaches that Catholics can disagree over prudential matters in this sphere: We can’t debate whether we have an obligation to take care of the poor, but we can debate how to do that best. So one Catholic may favor federal cash transfers from rich to poor, while another advocates state and local programs over federal ones, while another touts the earned-income tax credit.

      And I think some conservatives make a valid point when they say that the government can sometimes (whether inadvertently or deliberately) undermine local, voluntary, nonprofit programs. Such programs have the advantage of being more personal than government ones; ideally they connect one person to another, not just a person to a bureaucracy. Pope Benedict made this point in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est:

      “Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. … The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support.”

  • goral

    The bishops know next to nothing about national finances. They have mismanaged and bankrupted their own dioceses. It is a grave mistake to equate charity with national welfare programs. That is liberal, socialist and Marxist thinking that is driving European nations into a financial and political morass.
    The tract record of USCCB, on social issues, is desperate and fatally flawed. It is to the discredit of the bishops’ husbandry that has produced catholics of national notoriety who continue to stab the Church in the back as they join ranks with Obama and other enemies of the Church.

    Why am I not surprised that they are not wholeheartedly endorsing Ryan? This man is a clear and obvious, right choice. Let’s see if he gets an invitation to the Al Smith dinner.

    • I agree with you that “It is a grave mistake to equate charity with national welfare programs” — see the last couple paragraphs of my comment to “noelfitz” above. However, if national welfare programs were suddenly to disappear, there would not be enough charity to ensure that the poor still had access to health care, decent housing, etc. Americans only give about $300-$350 billion to charity annually, while the government’s basic safety net (Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, and all) costs way more than that. Until Catholics/Christians start giving way more to charitable programs out of their own free will, our argument that the government should get out of the welfare business won’t sound very convincing.

      Regarding the Al Smith dinner- vice-presidential candidates are typically not invited, as far as I know, but Romney has been invited and plans to attend.

  • noelfitz

    thank you for your thoughtful and sound comment. I would love to read more contributions from you.

    You wrote “Can anyone take seriously a candidate who has no concern for the essence of moral law?” I believe that as Governor of Massachusetts Mitch Romney was responsible for health care regulations more sympathetic to abortion than anything considered by Obama.

    my concern with Paul Ryan would be his lack of concern for the old, the poor and the sick. To increase taxes for those earning less than $250000 and lower it for the super-rich seems wrong. No wonder the bishops have condemned his economic policies.

    This post is brilliant. It expresses clearly what I would love to be able to express. To me it shows Catholicism at its best. It is lucid, charitable and very, very Catholic. Congratulations for a most wonderful post.

    thanks for your contributions. I often differ with you, but not with your fundamental commitment to the Church.
    The Pope and the bishops are successors of St Peter and the apostles and have been called to lead the Church. In economic affairs one may differ with them, but their views should be listened to carefully.

    I am reminded of some quotations of St Ignatius of Antioch.

    You must all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father ( ISmyr 8:1).

    It is good to acknowledge God and the bishop. The one who honors the bishop has been honored by God; the one who does anything without the bishop’s knowledge serves the devil. (ISmyr 9:1).

    For when you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, it is evident to me that you are living not in accordance with human standards but in accordance with Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that by believing in his death you might escape death (ITr 2:1).

    But didn’t Romney suggest Ryan for President?

    • Thank you- those are high compliments! And great quotations from St Ignatius of Antioch. Regarding your last question, do you mean to say that Romney said Ryan should be president? As far as I know, he has not… though of course choosing someone to be your running mate is tantamount to suggesting that he should be president.

  • noelfitz

    you asked “Regarding your last question, do you mean to say that Romney said Ryan should be president?”

    I was referring to Romney’s slip-up where he said “Join me in welcoming the next President of the US, Paul Ryan”.

    I find I often disagree with contributors here, but I find your writings powerful, clear and respectful. I wish you continued success.