House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) sold himself as a policy wonk and budget hawk throughout his 20-year career in the House. Now Ryan is retiring at the age of 48, after less than three years as Speaker. He seems to have abandoned the principles he championed during his time in Congress — fiscal responsibility and budget austerity — leaving ballooning deficits and Republican infighting. (For reference, the Congressional Budget Office this week estimated that deficits are going to be about $1.85 trillion bigger over the net 10 years, primarily because of the $1.5 trillion tax cut passed by Republicans in December.)
On Sunday, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Ryan about those deficits that happened under his watch; Ryan didn’t do much else but shrug and blame entitlements and baby boomers. “That was going to happen,” he told Todd, before continuing:
The baby boomers’ retiring was going to do that. These deficit trillion dollar projections have been out there for a long, long time. Why? Because of mandatory spending which we call entitlements. Discretionary spending under the CBO baseline is going up about $300 billion over the next ten years. Tax revenues are still rising. Income tax revenues are still rising. Corporate income tax revenues. Corporate rate got dropped 40 percent, still rising. Mandatory spending which is entitlements, that goes to $2 trillion over the next decade. Why does it go to $2 trillion? Because the boomer generation is retiring. And we have not prepared these —these programs. So really, that’s where the rubber hits the road. I think the most irresponsible Congress is the one that created brand a new entitlement. That to me is, is the big mistake. And we can fix these programs and still meet the mission for them. But the way they’ve been designed in the 20th century doesn’t work.
Ryan’s comments came in response to comments from Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), who is also retiring, that “this Congress and this administration likely will go down as one of the most fiscally irresponsible administrations and Congresses that we ever had.” Todd pressed Ryan on the process — namely, that Republicans have this habit of passing tax cuts now, and then figuring out how to pay for them later. In Oklahoma, for example, teachers went on strike after tax cuts — led by the state’s Republican legislature — gutted the state’s public education funding.
Ryan said the budget process, which he’s been a part of for two decades, is “fundamentally broken” and needs to be redesigned. He blamed the Senate for the recent omnibus spending bill, which he said was “another piece of evidence that the budget process is broken.” Ryan also said he regretted not being able to enact entitlement reform, specifically in health care, and said it was the Senate’s fault a bill never passed.
Ryan thought Trump was going to be a ticket to major legislation.
While Donald Trump wasn’t Ryan’s first pick for the presidency, Ryan has largely stood by him and enabled him since last year’s inauguration. Part of why Ryan’s leaving, Vox’s Tara Golshan explained recently, is that Trump was not the conduit for major Republican legislative action he envisioned:
At the start of Trump’s presidency, congressional Republicans, with control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, set forward an ambitious agenda. They would repeal and replace Obamacare in mere months, pass a major budget deal, and enact massive tax cuts.
Instead, after months of highly visible party infighting, Obamacare repeal failed epically. Republicans deeply underestimated the time they’d spend excusing Trump’s tweets and White House scandals. They managed to pass tax cuts, but lawmakers are already worried the bill won’t be popular enough in November to help them win elections. Meanwhile, Trump, who doesn’t seem interested in talking taxes much, is stuck on the one policy issue that will only deepen party divides: immigration.
Facing the end of his political career, Ryan admitted that, in the end, he couldn’t change the government. “You know, one person’s not going to solve all of those things,” he said on Sunday. “I feel like I’ve done a lot to advance that debate.”
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