Farewell, Speaker Paul Ryan
House Speaker Paul Ryan seems like a nice guy. He is a good family man by all accounts, a sincere and honest fellow, and a man given to duty and service to the nation in a role, House Speaker, he neither sought nor wanted. But, to the detriment of all Americans, Mr. Ryan was a terrible Speaker, and, in many ways, as damaging to the country as the incompetent president now in office.
First, it is fair to say that leadership in the House is a difficult job. But Ryan made it more difficult by maintaining the Hastert Rule, that bills require a majority of Republicans instead of a majority of the House. This prevented bi-partisan successes and added to the division within the House. Ryan further impeded the House by refusing to take any bill to the floor opposed by this president, a decision that likely made DACA legislation impossible and threw the Dreamers into a real fear of expulsion.
But beyond these structural flaws that limited success within the House of Representatives, Ryan’s deepest failures were seated in his hypocrisy. Ryan welcomed the perception that he was the conservative Republican “budget guy”, the House leader in balancing the budget and reducing federal spending. Except he never attempted to do either. When given the opportunity in 2017, he used his power to further deconstruct the Affordable Care Act, resulting in yet higher premiums and fewer providers, and a loss of overage, potentially, of 23 million Americans. Taxpayers are paying for that now.
And when given the opportunity to reduce taxes and cut expenses, Ryan opted to slash taxes beyond any possible level to sustain needed federal revenues and added to the damage by increasing spending beyond sustainability. The final bill he supported passed into law, and we are now informed by the congressional budget office that the new law will cause the deficit to soar. That is Paul Ryan hypocrisy.
Ryan was honest in one regard, that he wanted to “reform” Medicare and Social Security, and by reform he meant reduce, cut, eviscerate, end, or destroy. You see, Ryan looked at federal spending and saw no waste or savings in military spending, even in peacetime, but saw the most popular programs for the middle class and the poor as frivolous and wasteful. Doubtlessly helped by his worshipful view of the writings of Ayn Rand.
Ryan knew that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, which would serve to increase the inequality gap in America, could, in his intention, only be offset by reductions in health care for our aging population and reductions in retirement benefits that are already miserly for many.
Ryan could have used his position in ways to help the nation. He could have fought to end the obscene pricing of Big Pharm; he could have legislated an end to consumer arbitrations; he could have legislated against industry consolidations that create virtual monopolies, like the airline industry. Ryan looked away from those real opportunities.
Yet, with all these failures to the American people, Ryan’s greatest failure was not providing the constitutional co-equal power of congress to stand independently against a president who disrespects the rule of law, degrades the constitutionally protected free press, alienates our allies of generations, and leads the nation by tweets to his followers that insult and attack individuals and organizations without regard for fairness.
Paul Ryan leaves behind a Republican congress that is distrusted and disliked, and his choices as Speaker reflect the reasons why the House may turn to Democrats this fall.
Farewell Mr. Speaker.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.