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August 11, 2012

Republicans See Intellectual Firepower in Paul Ryan

by Peter Heinlein

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate has thrust the Wisconsin congressman from relative obscurity into the national spotlight.  Republicans are hoping the pick will boost Romney's campaign.

Many political pundits were caught off guard when Mitt Romney named the Paul Ryan, 42, as his vice presidential choice.

The Wisconsin congressman is a leading proponent of budget-cutting proposals that have been intensely criticized by Democrats.  They say his cuts would damage popular social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the insurance programs for the elderly and the poor.

Romney said he sees Ryan as a man with the intellectual heft to counter the Democrats' politically powerful arguments. "Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party.  He understands the fiscal challenges facing America: our exploding deficits and crushing debt, and the fiscal catastrophe that awaits us if we don't change course," said Romney.

Long on Washington Experience

Ryan has spent nearly half his life in Washington, first as a young congressional staffer, then as one of the youngest members of the House of Representatives.  He won a seat in Congress at the age of 28, and is completing his seventh two-year term.

He grew up in Janesville, a small town in Wisconsin where he still lives with his wife and three children.  On Capitol Hill, his frugality gained attention: he lives in his office four days a week, then flies home every weekend to be with his family.

Ryan is a practicing Catholic, and his choice signals Romney's hope to win over Catholics and members of other religious groups who have expressed discomfort with Romney's Mormon faith.

Ryan is also a fitness buff, something he says is a lesson from his father, who died of a heart attack when Ryan was 16.  In his speech thanking Romney for choosing him, Ryan talked about his father's influence on him. "My dad died when I was young.  He was a good and decent man.  I still remember a couple things he would say that have really stuck with me.  'Son, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.'  Regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem, and Mitt Romney is the solution.  The other thing my dad would say is that every generation of Americans leaves their children better off.  That's the American legacy," said Ryan.

Specializes in financial, economic issues

Ryan rose through the ranks in Congress to become chairman of the House Budget Committee.  He is also a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

He is perhaps best known for his 2010 proposal to eliminate the federal budget deficit - a plan that he called a "Roadmap for America's Future."  That won the admiration and staunch support of fiscal conservatives.  Because the roadmap insists on deep cuts in many popular government programs, Democrats see a political advantage in it, and they were gleeful when Ryan was announced as Romney's running mate.

Immediately after Romney introduced Ryan to a cheering crowd of Republicans Saturday morning, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee director, Robby Mook, sent out a fundraising appeal announcing: "Romney just named Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee. Yeah, THAT Paul Ryan.  The architect of the Republican plan to kill Medicare."

Before running for Congress, Ryan worked as an aide to Wisconsin Senator Robert Kasten, and later for former congressman Sam Brownback, now the governor of Kansas.  Ryan also worked as a speechwriter for former congressman and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, and for former education secretary William Bennett.