Who is Paul Ryan?

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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  pretty dramatically (). 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 ) 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.

Anna Williams

Anna Williams

Anna Williams is a junior fellow at First Things magazine, a former Collegiate Network fellow at USA TODAY, and a recent graduate of Hillsdale College.

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26 thoughts on “Who is Paul Ryan?”

  1. Avatar

    Your blog entry is a well-documented, thorough piece of work. What I miss, however, is the other Catholic in the house: Vice-President Joseph Biden.

    You do realize that Ryan has been selected as the Republican Party’s candidate for the office of VICE-President, don’t you? Perhaps a few comparisons to the current Vice-President might be in order, rather than using this column as an excuse to slam President Obama’s record and position yet again (and again and again).

    A fair and balanced look at Ryan this column was unfortunately not. You praise what is supposedly in line with Catholic dogma while excusing that which is clearly outside not only Catholic teaching, but Christian values (cue Ayn Rand).

    A better title for the column would have been, “An Apologetic for Paul Ryan.”

  2. Avatar

    Mr. Salazar, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure precisely how Joe Biden has affected the Obama administration, so I intended this as less a head-to-head comparison between potential VPs than an exploration of Ryan himself, how he may affect the Romney ticket, and how their agenda compares to that of the current administration. I don’t think I’m excusing Ryan’s admiration of Rand — on the most relevant related topic (the budget), I stated explicitly that a full exploration of the controversy is beyond the scope of this brief post, and I linked to both attacks on Ryan and defenses of him. For what it’s worth, I don’t actually support Ryan’s budget plans, and I thought my post made it clear that I do not support his views on immigration or foreign policy either. On those and other topics (like health care), I tried to emphasize that both his and Obama’s policies are lacking.

  3. Pingback: MONDAY SPECIAL: Paul Ryan, Aquinas, & Ayn Rand | Big Pulpit

  4. Avatar

    The only position which I feel is socially immoral and culturally reprehensible is Rights of Conscience Act and the lame positioning of the USCCB. “First, do no harm!” the primary postulate of medicine.

    Is there no harm in denial of abortion when: a 12 year old is raped by her father and becomes pregnant, when a mother of 4 is raped by a stranger, when a fetus threatens the life of the mother, removal of fetus in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, etc.?

    Is there no harm when a Seventh Day Adventist doctors would refuse blood transfusions or transplants to preserve life because it conflicts with Scriptural perversion?

    Is there no harm when a Christian Science doctor/practioner refuses to treat a child with cancer because they believe that all which is necessary is prayer?

    Is there no harm when a doctor refuses a DNR ow the provision of advanced directives because of their faith?

    Is there no harm when a catholic doctor would refuse a d/c for medically valid reasons?

    The sectarian beliefs of religion have NO PLACE in medicine or a physician’s conscience when the doctor/hospital accepts Medicaid or Medicare money….I do not pay taxes to subsidize sectarian beliefs…I pay taxes so patient’s get what they need and want. If a church wants to exclude certain procedure don’t accept my tax money!

    Ryan’s support of this act is IMMORAL as is the bishop’s position …

  5. Avatar

    You bring up many tough situations. As a future Catholic doctor I’ve considered many of these myself. However, under the Constitution you and I are both guaranteed that Congress will make no law infringing on our “free exercise” of religion. It does not say we only have freedom to believe what we want; it says we have the freedom to exercise our religion (in so far as the right does not infringe on someone else God given right). No doctor has the authority or right to take another person’s life even if that person is inconvenient, very sick, or very small. I can’t speak for the other religions you mentioned, but the rights Catholics claim (refusing to perform abortion etc.) are completely in accord with the Constitution.
    With the laws Obama has passed in the last few years, one of my greatest concerns is if I’ll be able to even practice medicine when I graduate from medical school in a few years without being forced to violate my conscience and/or the inherent dignity of my patients.
    God bless.

  6. Avatar

    ‎”The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand .”- Paul Ryan

    Either he lied or he’s hiding his real personna!!

  7. Avatar

    If you allow one religion (Catholicism) to determine the scope of medical practice for its doctors, you must also allow every other wacko cults like JW’s who deny transfusions or CS’s to only pray instead of using chemo to treat cancer, etc. Rules must apply to all equally, if you believe in religion and freedom of expression. And then what happens when religion conflicts with the Hippocratic Oath? Again, if an MD refuses to perform certain procedures (any religion) they should lose rights to bill Medicaid, Medicare, etc. which insure people of all religions and are paid by people of all or no religions. Follow you conscience, but don’t take insurance that I pay into to cover your salary…that then violates my freedom of expression.

  8. Avatar

    The hypocritical posturing of Obama and the Democrats on Medicare is nauseating. Obama has cut 700 billion dollars from Medicare and is butchering it by stealth. The Democratic Party has sacrificed the unborn. Obama’s appalling record on abortion speaks for itself. Catholics are duty bound not to vote for pro-abortion politicians. To do so is a grave sin.

  9. Avatar

    @ John

    The Democratic Party is sacrificing the unborn? I always thought that it was “Roe v Wade”, a Supreme Court Decision…..And just which Medicare benefits have been lost by us seniors (I’m 65 and would ike to know)? And if Catholic defined sin becomes entwined with voting prerogatives, should not Christian churches lose their tax exempt status? Oh, vey! This is America and we do have a Constitution…

  10. Avatar

    John and Phil- Both President Obama and Paul Ryan aim to reduce Medicare spending, though by different methods. See this post on Ezra Klein’s blog for the details.

    Phil, thanks for your comments. A few points to address the issues you’ve raised:

    First, yes, Roe v Wade ensured that abortion would be legal in the U.S. But Republicans generally fight to enact restrictions on abortion, with many hoping eventually to overturn Roe v Wade, whereas Democrats generally try to fight restrictions and keep abortion legal in all circumstances. So yes, for Catholics, there’s a difference between the parties on the question of abortion.

    Also, regarding conscience exemptions for doctors who are practicing Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, etc: Just because one doctor refuses to perform an abortion (or give you a blood transfusion or whatever) does not mean that no other doctor can do it. A doctor who refuses to perform abortions is not imposing his religious views on a woman who wants an abortion, because he’s not preventing her from visiting another doctor. The Constitution and laws protect his right to refuse to perform an abortion. And given the relatively tiny number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists in this country, their views are hardly relevant to the issue of conscience exemptions.

    Finally, on voting and tax-exempt status: While the Catholic Church obviously speaks out on many matters of public policy, it does not officially endorse candidates or say that voting for a certain candidate is a sin. Individual Catholics can argue all they want about which candidates Catholics should support or condemn, but they’re doing that not as churches (tax-exempt institutions) but as individual citizens with free speech rights. You may not like the fact that people invoke religious views when arguing on political matters, but that is in fact legal in the U.S. and not a violation of the First Amendment or the separation of church/temple/mosque and state.

  11. Avatar

    @Anna. There is a fine article on Abortion and Excommunication at Catholic Planet
    It deals with the implications for those who promote abortion in any way (politicians, commentators et al.It also deals with the implications for voters.
    This should be compulsory reading for Catholic politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi who seek to rationalise their support for abortion.
    @Phil It is important to remember that in 1997, Obama voted in the Illinois Senate against SB 230, a bill designed to prevent partial-birth abortions. As President his administration has pursued a strong pro-abortion policy at home and overseas. I am sorry but under no circumstances could I vote for ANY pro-abortion candidate. If we want to end abortion we make pro-abortion politicians pay a heavy price at the ballot box.
    There are too many milk and watery Catholics who turn a blind eye to the abortion issue.

  12. Avatar

    @ John; @ Anna
    Abortion is a hot topic issue but the pro-life people ned to answer for specific scenarios, not beat around the moral bush:
    1. Would you deny the termination of a pregnancy to a 12 year old who was raped by her father?
    2, Would you deny the right to terminate a pregnancy to a mother of 6 who was brutally raped by a stranger?
    3. Would you deny the termination of pregnancy to a woman who had an ectopic pregnancy where the fetus is not viable and the mother life is in danger?
    4. Would you deny a termination of a pregnancy to w woman whose testing revealed her fetus has anencephaly (no brain development whatever)?
    5. Would you deny a pregnancy termination to a woman whose fetus endangered the mother’s life and there was a high probability mon would die is the pregnancy continued?
    6. Would you deny a termination to a child who was impregnated because of incest?

    I think it is time to speak of specifics?

  13. Avatar

    All over I read on Catholic blogs about how drastic cuts to government spending and welfare programs go against Catholic teaching. When did it become Catholic teaching (that is, public revelation that ceased with the death of the last apostle) that secular government’s welfare programs are a good thing?

    Like virtually all conservatives I know, I believe in helping the poor, but I believe that it should be done by private charities and individuals, not through government programs. Catholics are certainly free to support programs that do not violate our conscience, but where does the Magisterium say I must support particular programs, or any government programs at all?

    The truth is, it doesn’t and it can’t by definition of what is and is not Catholic teaching. It is no more a Catholic teaching on whether or not food stamps are good or bad than whether or not we should attempt a manned mission to Mars.

    For the Bishops, theologians, or bloggers to imply that any Catholic who supports budget cuts is in the wrong from a Catholic moral perspective is scandalous and ultimately undermines the Church’s moral authority. Case in point, in 2004 many pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-embryonic stem cell research (etc) politicians said that they were better Catholics than their pro-life counter parts because they agreed with the Bishops more often; it just so happened that the times they agreed with them were in areas that Catholics could disagree, but in the times they disagreed were in areas they couldn’t disagree.

    When Catholics speak out about a political issue from a Catholic perspective, it must only be when the issue is non-negotiable, because otherwise (as in 2004) it makes all issues look more or less equal and it scandalizes otherwise faithful Catholics.

  14. Avatar

    To avoid confusion on what I said above, I am not saying that Catholics must only speak on political issues that are non-negotiable. Rather, I mean that when speaking on an issue with respect to what the Church teaches, we must not appear to say that the Church teaches something when it really doesn’t.

    For example: the church says we are obligated to help the poor. That is non-negotiable. But it is not Catholic teaching that we must do this through food stamps, nor is it Catholic teaching that we must not do this through food stamps.

  15. Avatar

    Lets get back to first principles. Abortion is wrong because it is the DELIBERATE KILLING of the innocent unborn child. Rape and incest are heinous crimes. The perpetrators should be jailed for life. However an unborn child IRRESPECTIVE of how it was conceived is entitled to live. It has committed no crime. It exists as a new human being. To abort it is MURDER. To abort a child creates two victims -mother and child. It is also time to consider the psychological and physical damage done by abortion to women.
    Under Catholic teaching women are entitled to all treatment necessary to save their lives if suffering from a life threatening physical ailment. The child may be UNINTENTIONALLY killed in the course of such treatment. That is not abortion as there was NO DELIBERATE intent to kill the child. I am not going to be side tracked by “whataboutery”.
    1997, Obama voted in the Illinois Senate against SB 230, a bill designed to prevent partial-birth abortions. And you see nothing wrong with that do you? As President his administration has pursued a strong pro-abortion policy at home and overseas. He has pumped scarce taxpayers money into promotion of abortion in Africa. He is the most liberal pro-abortion president of all time. It is a disgraceful and despicable record.
    When we die we answer to our MAKER for our sins of omission. Failure to oppose abortion is a sin of omission. We get one soul to save. It is up to us to save it.
    Finally I applaud Paul Ryan for his unwavering support for the unborn. What has America come to? The most dangerous place for a child is now in the mother’s womb. This cannot be justified no matter how you try to justify it.
    It is time to drop the sanitised language. Pro-choice is support for the “right” to kill the unborn. The fact that it may be legal does not make it moral. It is an attempt to pretend that killing an unborn child is on a par with keeping it alive. God has given no right to kill the unborn. He has not changed the Fifth Commandment. Wake up America.

  16. Avatar

    Phil- To follow up on John’s response, the Church’s basic teaching is this: When there are two human lives at stake in a difficult situation (a pregnancy resulting from rape, for example, or a pregnancy that might result in a baby who can only live a few days), the solution is not to extinguish one of them. When both mother and child can survive, yes, we oppose abortion. To give some other difficult abortion-related questions: Should pro-choice people support sex-selective abortions, which perpetuate the sexist view that a male baby is worth more than a female one? What about the abortions of babies who would be born with a mild but correctable birth defect? Or if genetic testing suggests that an unborn baby will have an average IQ while the mother prefers a high-IQ child, should she be allowed to abort the baby for that reason?

    William Sain- I sympathize with the points you’ve made, and made some of them myself in this post. Regarding the crux of your comments — “Like virtually all conservatives I know, I believe in helping the poor, but I believe that it should be done by private charities and individuals, not through government programs. Catholics are certainly free to support programs that do not violate our conscience, but where does the Magisterium say I must support particular programs, or any government programs at all?” — I also would like to see private charities and individuals take a leading role in helping the poor, rather than government programs. But Americans only give about $300-$350 billion to charity annually (source), while the government’s basic safety net (Medicaid, food stamps, etc) costs way more than that to maintain. 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.

  17. Avatar

    Ms. Williams, I take issue with the fact that in your article you do not distinguish between prudential matters and matters of intrinsic evil. The budget, for example, is a prudential matter. Abortion is not. They are not equal. The bishops themselves have said this.

    Further, saying that Ryan “seems like a normal Republican” is not a very satisfying treatment. It would be better if you could pinpoint exact decisions he made or motions he supported that were immoral. I have not been able to read the document you linked to in full but reading a statement like in this piece was not helpful.

  18. Avatar

    I feel one clarification needs to be made:

    Budget/safety net/taxes – …Ryan argues that his plan is in line with Catholic social teaching; the bishops and other Catholics beg to differ…

    THE bishops have not opposed Ryan’s budget, but a few have. The USCCB has not issued a majority opinion on the budget. In fact, Ryan’s own bishop, Bishop Robert Morlino was on EWTN, and gave a favorable assessment of Paul Ryan’s adherence to the Magesterium, and its application within the budget.

    Besides, Represenative Ryan was the major target of the infamous “Nuns on the Bus” tour. Opposition to Ryan by the LCWR groupies? Puts him in a good class, by my book.

  19. Avatar

    @ Daniel
    I would rather be a groupie of the “Nuns on the Bus” than Any Rand …..Ryan’s hero and he said so! “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand .”- Paul Ryan

    “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”
    Ayn Rand

  20. Avatar

    Hey Phil, do you think the nuns still got the bus? If so, I’ll help pay to gas it up, and they can truck on down to Tampa for the Republican National Convention in a few weeks. With their Soros money, handful of supporters, and media grabbing agenda, they can help my candidates further on. Oh, comic stunts do have a way of blowing up in their faces. Kind of like the Three Stooges and their exploding cigars. Care for a Cohiba, sister?

    Seriously, God’s work is done through prayer. While the nuns were on the bus, the rest of us were mobilized in the prayer, fasting and education of the Fortnight for Freedom. I will not prescribe messianic persona to Ryan (unlike the devotees of Obama), but God appears to be answering our prayers. Romney and Ryan will most likely swing the pendulum back in a pro-life direction for the nation. We need this.

    Just one more thing. We Catholics tend to “own” the Catholic candidates, and thus expect to evaluate them in ways we would not evaluate a non-Catholic candidate. I say this not just about Representative Ryan, but also the way we evaluated John Kerry, or continue to evaluate Catholic candidates like Nancy Pelosi or any Kennedy. I really would rather evaluate the candidate purely on the issue over whether the candidate tows the line of their religious leaders. I like Paul Ryan and his 100% Pro-life record. Numero uno evaluation criteria for me.

  21. Avatar

    @ Daniel
    Not a very kind or charitable comment about nuns who have given their lives to serving the poor and the disenfranchised, it debases civil discourse. I am sure they are as sincere in their beliefs and actions as you are…

  22. Avatar

    Daniel- I’m with Phil on the LCWR. Criticize some of their actions if you want — including the bus tour — but please don’t slam them indiscriminately. As Phil pointed out, they’ve devoted their lives to serving the poor and disenfranchised, which is more than most of us can say. Yes, God’s work is done through prayer, but it’s also done through the actions of believers. And abortion is not the only important political issue. It may be the MOST important, but it’s not the ONLY important issue.

    Ms. Bazinet- Thanks for your comment. I’ve distinguished between prudential issues and matters of intrinsic evil in a previous post on this blog (see the first link of the second paragraph of my post) and didn’t want to repeat myself here. The normal limits on my time, and the normal limits on the length of blog posts, also prevented me from fully elaborating on Paul Ryan’s foreign policy (among other issues). By “normal Republican,” I meant that he has voted in favor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act. (To be clear, I think Catholics can disagree about those things in good conscience.) Ryan also has not objected to the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists (by President Bush earlier and especially by President Obama, who has used them more than his predecessor). My view on the use of drones is roughly Robert George’s: “Having a valid military target is in itself not a sufficient justification for the use of weapons such as predator drones. Sometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid their use, even if that means that grave risks must be endured by our own forces in the prosecution of a war. The wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones cannot be justified, and should be criticized.”

  23. Avatar

    I’m not backing down. The “Nuns on the Bus” put themselves into an absurd and comic situation, and tried to milk the media attention for all they could. I’ve lived through the 60’s and 70’s, and witnessed to all sorts of protest stunts. Their actions were a purposeful distraction against the bishops and against the Fortnight for Freedom. These sisters were a disgrace, and brought shame to the thousands of religious women that are obedient to the Magesterium.

    I remember my years in Catholic grade school. The brothers (yes, brothers taught grade school in those days) would expel us from school for such activity as these Nuns of the Bus engaged, even if the activity was during our own time. The brothers were clear that we carried the identity of St. Mary’s out into the world with us. I’ve grown tired of religious think they can hide behind their virtual habits for such clowish behavior. They carry the identity of Christ and their religious communities into the world. We have every obligation to let them know our approval, even if it is harsh. They seem immune to charitable commentary.

  24. Avatar

    @ Daniel,
    Neither I nor others want to change your mind and we acknowledge your opinion and the right to possess that opinion. The issue is that opinion should be presented without sarcasm, snarkiness and words which demean the honest efforts of people who do what the majority of society evades; working withe poor, the sick, the dying, the illiterate, the lonely. You can disagree with them without being condescending. They are not heretics and we know the controversy resulted from Levada who was instigated by Bernie Law, the Boston pedophile protector who should be in jail with Msgr Lynn. He had a vendetta against American nuns and he was a well known misogynist.
    As for the reference to the Brothers, well, I was one back then for 8 years and I could share things which you make the hair on the back of your neck stand. They would not expel you, just beat the ever lovin’ crap out of you. Times change and our understanding and awareness of the needs of the poor, the aged and the suffering changes. You can be in disagreement without being nasty…don’t change your mind but be a nice guy.

  25. Avatar

    @Phil: upvote/”Like” for your reasonable, fair and rational commentary. An absence of vicious, personal attacks is why I enjoy posting on this website, as opposed to many, many other “Catholic” blogs. You were far more charitable in your deserved takedown of @Daniel than I would have been. Bravo.

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