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Interview with Rep. Paul Ryan

Interview with Rep. Paul Ryan

By Kyle Trygstad - February 3, 2010

As the ranking member of the Budget committee and a senior member on Ways & Means, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has moved front-and-center in the debate over President Obama's new budget blueprint. Ryan has crafted his own long-term plan, called Roadmap For America's Future, which President Obama and OMB Director Peter Orszag both praised and criticized. Ryan, who turned 40 last week, is serving his sixth term in Wisconsin's 1st District -- which Obama carried in 2008 -- and could be a candidate for Senate in 2012.

RCP: Under your questioning this morning during a Ways and Means hearing, Tim Geithner said the administration needs the help of a bipartisan commission to help it get the deficit under 3 percent of the GDP. What is the White House strategy here and why isn't the administration able to do it on their own?

RYAN: That's a really good question. I asked Peter Orszag that just a minute ago in a hearing we had with him this afternoon. I noticed there is all this talk from the administration on bipartisanship, but they're still not including us in the backdoor deal they're trying to cut on their health care bill. They didn't reach out last year when they tried to jam through last year's budget and the cap-and-trade bill. So I think when they realized they had political trouble, they wanted to see if they can use the rhetoric of bipartisanship but we still have yet to see serious collaboration and outreach on the big issues of the day, like the health care bill moving through Congress. So we hear the words but we don't see the results.

RCP: If this commission comes to fruition and your leadership decides to participate, would you want a seat at that table?

RYAN: I'll do whatever the leadership wants me to do. I'm a team player. If Leader Boehner appoints me to it, I'll serve on it. But we do have legitimate concerns because it's stacked from a partisan basis two-to-one against Republicans. I think there's a problem on transparency. We have these backdoor negotiations on health care -- this is something that's going to be written and introduced after the elections, and then voted on before the next session in a lame duck session of Congress. That doesn't strike me as open government. So a lot of us have concerns about this. But nonetheless if leadership decides they're going to move forward and they want me to serve on it, then I will.

RCP: You put forth your own long-term roadmap -- which CBO analyzed -- that you say puts the country back on the track of fiscal responsibility and sustainability. If we continue down the path the president's budget puts the country on, what does the future hold for the average American?

RYAN: If even Orszag says that it's not a credible budget minus the commission, the deficits are not sustainable using the administration's own methodology. So we have a budget here that's not credible and not sustainable under the administration's own admission. And that to me is a huge dereliction of duty. I'm one guy from Wisconsin with a small staff, and if I can put out a plan that solves our fiscal crisis, surely the head of our government can do the same.

RCP: If you had to pick something in the president's budget that you liked, what would it be?

RYAN: I've always been a fan of cutting back on agricultural subsidies, and they have that in there. I think we should do agricultural reform, and that's one thing that they do that I agree with.

RCP: You've criticized the administration for "crony capitalism" and its use of TARP funds beyond its initial purpose. What is your and the GOP's stance on "too big to fail"?

RYAN: I think this current bill moving through Financial Services basically solidifies the "too big to fail" system in place. A good idea I've seen is a paper put out by economists Luigi Zingales and Oliver Hart on a better system that's market-based that prevents "too big to fail." So what I'm basically saying is, we need to prevent "too big to fail," not make more firms too big to fail, which is exactly where I think the administration is going. Not only are they basically nationalizing the housing financing sector, but they're basically putting the biggest financial institutions in this country, deeming them "too big to fail," and that will give them access to cheaper credit then their smaller competitors, which in my opinion is Exhibit A in crony capitalism.

Republicans messed this up too. We have to remember that we're also to blame for having practiced crony capitalism. But where we are right now -- it's a systematic expansion of this doctrine. For us, it's easier to fix because we just have to rededicate ourselves to our principles. For Democrats, they would have to repudiate theirs, because crony capitalism sits nicely with their philosophy. You can sort of see an alignment here where big business and big government find a common agreement and that is a very big danger to our free market system. So we need to go back to being pro-market, instead of just pro-business. And there is a difference.

RCP: President Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points last year, yet a poll released last week showed your friend Russ Feingold trailing a potential challenger, Tommy Thompson. What's your sense of where the voters are this year in Wisconsin, and is that a seat Republicans can pick up?

RYAN: It is. I think they're trending just like the rest of the country. That election was sort of an anomaly. John McCain pulled out about six weeks out, Obama stayed in. Bush lost the state by less than 1 percent both elections. So it's a tighter state than you think, and I believe that poll -- I think Tommy would beat Russ if he got in the race.

RCP: Did you ever consider taking on Feingold this year?

RYAN: I did think about the race. I just feel like where I am as the head of the Budget committee and senior member of the Ways and Means committee, I can do more for the cause and for my state and country -- at this time, where I am right now -- than if I were a junior senator and stuck in a Senate race right now.

RCP: What about in two years when Senator Herb Kohl comes up for re-election?

RYAN: Yeah, in the future I may run for something else in Wisconsin.

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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