House Budget Chair Paul Ryan will be my guest today discussing his new book: The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea.
Part memoir of his life and the 2012 campaign, part “what just happened in the 113th Congress, and a lot of what ought to happen next,” the book is part of the tradition of reads by presidential candidates, which sends unusual signals about Ryan’s intentions, which are ambiguous, and which makes the book must reading for everyone interested in what a GOP majority in House and Senate and int he campaign for the White House that will follow. The good news is that it is an interesting and brisk read, not an extended policy paper.
Audio of the interview:
Transcript of interview:
HH: Wisconsin week on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Last hour, Reince Priebus, later in the week, Scott Walker will join me, this hour and a little bit of next, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, 2012 vice presidential nominee, and the author of a brand new book, The Way Forward: Renewing The American Idea, which is linked over at Hughhewitt.com. Interesting, very interesting book, very brisk read. Mr. Chairman, welcome back, good to talk to you.
PR: Hey, Hugh, thanks for having me. You ought to have my Senator, Ron Johnson, on just to make it a perfect four.
HH: I’m going to have to do that, actually.
PR: He’s a good guy.
HH: I think I’ve got to do that this week, because that, I was in Minnesota last week and commented that the candidate from, Mike McFadden from Minnesota running against Al Franken reminds me a lot of Ron.
HH: And so I think that’s a very good idea. I’ll follow through with that. Let’s start talking about The Way Forward. It surprised me in a lot of ways. I described it over at the website as part memoir, part policy wonk brief, part what just happened in the 113th Congress. How’s it being received?
PR: Very, very well. I’m real excited about it. Look, you can tell what I’m trying to do with the book. I’m trying to grow the conservative movement so that we can win national elections. And I’m trying to make sure that we’re a broad movement that’s also very principled. And I’m trying to show that our founding principles are timeless, and if you reapply them to the problems of the day, you have real solutions. And I also think we need it to intellectually defeat liberal progressivism and call it out for what it is. And the reason I tell a little bit of my personal story is because I didn’t just sort of stumble into conservatism, you know, because of the way I was raised or born. You know, I came into it because of tragedies in my family, because of the experiences. I grew up in the shadow of Madison, Wisconsin, where we learn about progressivism. It never sat right with me, and so I sort of had my own journey to conservatism, which is the kind of journey I’m encouraging a lot of people to take if it’s something that they don’t naturally have in their mind.
HH: One of the reactions I had to The Way Forward is the same one I had to the HBO documentary, Mitt. This would have helped us before the 2012 election. Now obviously, you didn’t have a chance to write a book between the time of your selection and nomination.
HH: But do you think the campaign did a good story of telling the Paul Ryan story?
PR: Well, Hugh, look, I mean, it’s 88 days. You basically get stuffed into a cannon and shot out to the country, and it’s really hard to do that in that kind of compressed time schedule with the media coming after you, with the Democrats coming after you. It’s really hard to do that. That’s one of the reasons I also wanted to write the book, because you know, I just wanted to finally speak for myself by myself. And I was able to do that as well. And I also think that the kind of elections, from what I learned in the 2012 election, is we need to have a real clarifying choice election so that if and when we win it, we can fix the country’s problems. And if we lose it, which I don’t think we will, but if we do, at least we gave the country a clear choice.
HH: I want to get to those clarifying choices.
PR: Yeah, go ahead.
HH: But I first want to start with your background. And I want to begin especially with your family. Probably the most charming, touching part of the book are the reactions from your kids when you get them out of your house, get them into the car, get them on the plane, and tell them you’re going down south to announce your nomination. And Sam’s not buying this until you throw in the pool.
PR: Yeah, that’s my youngest guy, who’s the biggest goofball of our family. You know, my middle guy was crying his eyes out, because he didn’t want to leave Janesville, which is where we live, and he hated the idea of leaving home and moving to Washington, D.C. if we won, and Sam was going along with him. He was upset. And then I told them that there’s a pool that comes with the house you go to, and he said oh, well, in that case, I probably could go along if there’s a pool.
HH: You see, that’s the kind of stuff, I don’t know if you told that story on the campaign trail, but it’s a great story.
PR: Yeah, I didn’t. It’s a good story. And he was pretty sincere. He really likes to swim.
HH: Well, there’s a lot of family bio here, and perhaps because you are yourself a representative of what you call the American idea, because James Ryan, an Irish peasant, gets off the boat in 1851, and you reproduce in the book an example of the sign that such voyagers would read. I actually, I’ve read a lot of Irish history. I’ve never known that they would do didactic signage on the immigration boat.
PR: They did. They did actually have a copy of the sign. And it’s written, you know, in an Irish way with a little bit of Irish Gaelic twist to it. And it’s basically the story of America, which is that the condition of your book doesn’t determine the outcome of your life, and that work is a good thing, and personal responsibility is expected of you. It’s a great idea of what America is, written then by officials of the Irish government about our government, and I think they understood us better than the people running our government do now.
HH: Yeah, my Irish ancestors got here a little after the Civil War, but yours got here eight before it, so they had to go through that ordeal originally.
HH: There are now eight Ryan households within six blocks of where you live. What was it like after losing? Was there an extended wake in Janesville?
PR: Well, all the barricades left our blocks, so people could drive freely through our neighborhood afterwards. But yeah, we all got together as family, as cousins, like we fairly regularly do, and just you know, reminisced. And you know, just my family was excited and they were very proud. And you know, it was awful to lose because of where this administration’s going, but in a bittersweet way, it was nice just to get back to normal at home. And my family is fantastic.
HH: Now Janesville sounds a lot like Warren, Ohio, where you actually campaigned. You visited the Hot Dog Shoppe.
PR: Yeah, I went to that hot dog stand in Warren, Ohio.
HH: Yeah, Hot Dog Shoppe, except our GM plant stayed open in Lordstown, and yours closed. But the Catholic culture that you describe, have you read Ross Douthat’s book, Bad Religion, about the Catholic culture of the 50s, 60s and early 70s?
PR: No, I haven’t. I didn’t even know he had that. I know Ross.
PR: I have not read it.
HH: Terrific book, and it’s all-embracing, and you talk about St. Mary’s School, and the Nativity of Mary Parish, and 30 kids per grade. Does that exist anymore in Janesville, because it’s pretty much gone from everywhere.
PR: It does. My kids go to St. John Vianney School, and it’s about 30 kids per grade. And they wear their Catholic school uniforms. We have a fantastic, great conservative priest. He’s also a chaplain in the Air Force. He’s done two tours in Afghanistan. And we have a fantastic parish.
HH: And so you write in The Way Forward approvingly of Pope Francis, which may surprise some conservatives. It doesn’t surprise me as a fellow Catholic, but I think it will surprise some conservatives. Are you concerned, though, that he doesn’t quite get capitalism?
PR: Well, I think if you read his, I don’t read the liberal media’s interpretation of his writings, which is how they choose to view him in many ways. I actually read his writings, and I look inside of it, and then I talk to other friends in the Catholic Church, like my friend, Tim Dolan, who’s the cardinal of New York. I asked about these things, and I believe that what he’s trying to get at is true, free enterprise with no crony capitalism, which is participatory, which is bottom-up, which is everybody can get involved. And I do believe he doesn’t, he’s talking about not the rigged rules, you know, the powerful, big government, big business kind of capitalism, which is what we call crony capitalism. That’s part of the Ex-Im fight we’re having in Congress today. And I think what he’s talking about is a free enterprise system where the dignity of work is conferred and available to everybody. And so if you actually read what he actually writes, I think it’s a far more attractive view of things than what some of his interpreters choose to admit.
HH: Okay, we’ll come back to that. You also wrote, I quote, “I was raised on the Packers, Badgers, Bucks and Brewers, with some love of the Cubs because of WGN.” So when the Brewers play the Cubs, now that the Brewers are National League, who are you rooting for?
PR: You know, there’s no point in rooting for the Cubs right now. So I’m rooting for the Brewers. We’re having a really good year. When I was a kid, there was no conflict of interest. They were American League, the Brewers were.
PR: Now that they’re together, you know, honestly it’s basically who do I think has the best chance this year, I root for. And right now, it’s clearly the Brewers. The Cubs are just really not having a good year. But I just, I would love to see that they could shake this curse one of these days.
HH: Yeah, I hate the Packers, because I’m a Cleveland Browns fan. And I’m curious if you are a regular, now that you’re a hotshot Congressman, do you go to Lambeau? Or are you still watching at home with the family?
PR: No, I go to Lambeau. Yeah, of course.
HH: And so…
PR: I go in December when it’s cold.
HH: Oh, okay. That’s like Cleveland. So when and if, do you, you’re not old enough to remember the great Browns-Packers games of the early 60s. I assume that, you couldn’t possibly do that.
PR: No, I won’t even tell you when I was born, Hugh. It’ll probably…
HH: Yeah, it’ll upset me. But they’re coming back.
PR: You don’t want to hear me, yeah.
HH: When we come back from break, we’ll talk a little bit more about this, but you’re dad and your mom, interesting people, they would drop, your dad would drop your mom off in the Rockies, and you’d put the backpacks on, and you’d go backpacking. And he’d go back to work. That’s kind of an unusual approach to vacationing.
PR: It is. It’s the way we did it. What can I say?
HH: Was she a hunter as well?
PR: No, neither of my parents were, but I really wanted to get into it. It was a huge part of our Wisconsin culture, so I pestered my parents forever until they finally succumbed and asked a couple of family friends to take me out. One guy was my dentist, the other was our orthodontist, who were my dad’s buddies. And they taught me how to hunt. They took me out.
HH: There’s a casual discussion of hunting throughout this book.
HH: Including Liza getting her hunting license and bagging her first ten pointer, which is a little surprising, very authentic. But you did not get that from your parents. You got that on your own?
PR: Yeah, I got that on my own. For some reason, I just really wanted to learn how to hunt. I’m a very avid hunter. I bow, I handgun, I rifle, I shotgun. I’ve got birddogs for bird hunting, and I, you know, I’m really into bow hunting. That’s kind of probably my biggest passion. And it’s just part of the Wisconsin culture, but it’s just something I really like to do, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.
— – – – –
HH: There’s a story that’s gotten a lot of coverage, Mr. Chairman, about your dad. Your dad had a drinking problem. On Page 41, you write that when your brother, Stan, was born, he went cold turkey for 20 years, but then he slipped back into Canadian Club nightly, and then to alcoholism in late middle age, and to a sudden death at 55. Do you attribute part of your interest in places like Outcry In The Barrio in San Antonio, and Beyond The Walls in Cleveland, and Graceview apartments in D.C. to your dad’s addiction?
PR: I do. I do, because I see what it does to other families, other people. I clearly empathize with it, because I can relate to it. And so yeah, you know, every time I see one of these stories of people fighting addiction or, and overcoming it, when I see a person overcome it, that, to me, is the most exciting thing I can imagine, because my dad, you know, unfortunately, you know, he died. He had a heart attack. He didn’t overcome it. And so that’s something that’s stuck with me for all of my life. And when I see a person facing it, and families getting through it, you know, my family got through it. You know, my mom and I did, as did the rest of our family. So you can recover from these things. You can bounce back from these things, but it’s really exciting and encouraging to see people stare down their demons and get through them, and then build a better life, and then see what positive things happen to their families. So yeah, it’s a big part of what I see.
HH: Did you talk about that at all in the campaign? Again, I know the campaign.
PR: No, I never did. I just, this is the first time I’ve ever talked about it. You know, I talked to my mom and my siblings, and we decided to do this, to talk about it, because it was a pretty important factor of our lives. I would be whitewashing my personal history if I didn’t talk about it. So it would be inaccurate. And you I know, I’m not just trying to talk about conservatism in a theoretical way. I’m trying to talk about why I arrived to the principles that I have and the policies that I pursue, in a personal way to try and encourage other people to do the same. And so I never talked about it before, to be honest, because I was just kind of private, personal, and didn’t want to. And this is not something you want to throw out there in the middle of a presidential campaign. You know, you don’t want to just spring it on people then. And it would probably look opportunistic if you did. And so you know, I just didn’t think it was the time or place to do it.
HH: When did you recognize that your dad was an alcoholic?
PR: Probably when I was 12, 13. You know, it just slowly came on. Usually when he’d get back from work, he’d just one glass, it wasn’t a big deal, but it just kind of kept going. So…
HH: Well, you write that whiskey had washed away…
PR: When I was 12 or 13, yeah.
HH: You write before I lost him to a heart attack, whiskey had washed away some of the best parts of the man I knew. That hints at conflict. Did you have conflict with your dad over his drinking?
PR: He just became much more irritable near the end, and so we just grew apart is I guess I’d say how it is, and my mom and I grew very close to each other. You know, she’s the one, I was into a lot of sports. She went to all my games. My dad didn’t go to those things. So I just became closer with my mom, and she sort of wore both pants in the family in those years.
HH: So when you go to places, and I name them, you talk about Outcry In the Barrio, and Freddie and Jubal Garcia, Page 218, and Beyond The Walls in Cleveland, home to the GOP nomination in 2016, we’re glad about that and Paul Grodell, or Graceview Apartments and Bishop Shirley Holloway. Do all those people know you’re coming out of a background that knows of the problem?
PR: No, no, I don’t really share that. I just, I’m really quiet and private about that, and Bot Kotay, Step 13 in Denver, he just passed away, he has taken thousands of people off of addiction, off of alcohol in particular, and turned their lives around with his program, which is what I call civil society – people in communities, churches, charities, civic groups, making a difference in people’s lives, have nothing to do with government. And no, to be honest with you, I haven’t really shared that with these people. I just go, I don’t do a lot of talking. I do a lot of learning and listening with these groups, and I just think their stories, their heroic stories, are so incredible. And it’s a picture of civil society what de Tocqueville talked about when he said what made America so great. But no, I actually don’t really share all of that. I’ve been more of a private person, and not until this time did I decide to do it, because to continue not to talk about it, or to not mention it, is a little bit of a whitewash, so I decided to stop doing that.
HH: All right, let me ask you, do you worry about it in your own life, because it’s a genetic disease. It’s the Irish disease.
PR: You have to. Yeah, you have to, absolutely. That’s why I don’t drink hard liquor. I like a Miller Lite here and there, and you know, maybe a glass of wine with dinner, but I don’t drink hard liquor. And the reason I, you know, people have written about how I like to work out a lot. The primary reason I like that is because a Ryan male, my dad, grandfather and great-grandfather, none of them lived to the age of 60. So I’ve always had sort of a little extra incentive to be healthy. And if you have a family tree with whiskey in the background, stay away from it. Don’t let it get you.
HH: Now you also write at one point, Page 142 if anyone’s trying to reference this with the book about the phrase makers and takers, and how you had been using an implied certain judgment about a group that receives government benefits. It was a good Catholic confessional moment. But there’s truth both as to what you misunderstood, but also to the problem of growing dependency. I mean, the explosion of Social Security disability recipients in this country, from four million to nine million in 20 years, is not a good thing, Paul Ryan. But neither do we want to deny that the need is there for the program.
PR: That’s right, so I don’t think we want to overly simplify, over-generalize and paint everybody with a broad brush. And that’s the point I’m trying to make here, that there are people who are struggling in order to survive, and there are people who are taking things for granted who are able-bodied, but becoming dependent upon government and see it as some kind of an unearned entitlement. There are both kinds of examples in society, but you don’t want to malign one with the other. So let’s focus on upward mobility. Let’s focus on Welfare-to-Work. Let’s focus on personal responsibility. Let’s focus on what we really mean when we say we want, what kind of safety net we want. We want one there for people who cannot help themselves, so that they can lead a dignified life. And we want one where the able-bodied, if they get down on their luck, get the kind of assistance they need to get back on their feet, and that we’re always encouraging and pushing and motivating and incentivizing people to work, which is the bridge to a better life, and that we do not want people to become dependent, and not personally responsible, because that produces a welfare state. And welfare states don’t end well, because at the end of the day, the government is making lots of empty promises, and they’re depriving people of meeting their potential, because your potential is earned success. It’s flourishing. It’s making something. It’s achieving something. It’s reaching your potential, which is the whole promise of limited government, of self-government under the rule of law, of the American idea. And if we try to lull people away form that with false promises and a welfare state, then we’ll be no different than these failed welfare states of Western Europe. The only difference is those countries have America backing them up. We have nobody backing us up but ourselves.
HH: Okay, there you were channeling our mutual friend, Arthur Brooks. He used the term earned success and flourishing, which are Brooksian concepts.
HH: Did you mute some of that, we’ve got 30 seconds to the break, but I thought that was more muted in The Way Forward than I had expected.
PR: No, I didn’t, that wasn’t my intention at all. I just wanted to make sure that people, what I think, what I’m trying to do is make conservatism, and I want to invite people to look at conservatives and not think that they’re being misaligned, or that they’re being judged poorly because they’re down on their luck, that we want to invite them into the conservative cause, and that these ideas and principles speak to each and everybody, and that there’s, we have a movement that should be majoritarian in this country. I’m trying to make conservatism principled, inclusive, and applicable, and therefore majoritarian.
— – – –
HH: Chairman Ryan, on Page 92, you write, “You’ve got to be willing to take criticism, even from your friends, and trust that people will understand that governing requires tradeoffs.” I’m glad to hear that, because I’m about to get to the criticism part.
HH: We’ve sparked it up on a couple of occasions, and I know we disagree on Ex-Im, and there are a few other things. But here, this morning, I was on a conference call with Arthur Brooks, Michael Medved, Al Mohler, and I was asked what I thought about the book, and I said I was disappointed in its lack of specificity. He’s going to be chairman of the Ways And Means Committee, and he doesn’t tell us what he wants to do specifically with the home mortgage interest deduction, the charitable deduction, and the state income tax deduction. Why didn’t you do that?
PR: Well, I could have put so many specifics in here. I didn’t want to put people to sleep, is basically why. I didn’t want to just overly dull the book. I actually thought about doing that, but I was encouraged that it would just be too much detail, too boring for people, and I didn’t want people to drop the book two-thirds of the way through it. I wanted it to show what real conservatives look like in practice. Look, and also, I want to be respectful to the current chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp. He’s not done with his chairmanship. He’s still got things to do. And so I just don’t want to be presumptuous about such things, and I just thought it was in poor form to say here’s what I’m going to do as the next chairman of the committee, where there’s a current chairman doing his current job.
HH: Okay, that’s, I got that. I would have liked to have seen that, but here’s my problem as well. Dave Camp is your friend, and I’ve been a huge critic of Dave Camp, because he developed his plan in secret. On Page 257, you write, “Our plans and policies shouldn’t be secret.”
HH: But he engaged for a year in secret negotiations with Max Baucus, who then took the job in China, walked off, and left him with a plan that’s going nowhere fast. That’s, the same thing happens over and over again in Washington, immigration reform, it’s all done behind closed doors, and you guys spring it on us, and then we don’t like it.
PR: Yeah, and so that was the kind of governing you were maybe seeing in this last session, but you never got, because of Harry Reid and all of those things. That’s not what we, I agree with you, actually. First of all, I want us to win the Senate so we can stop the courts from getting packed, stop the regulatory agencies getting packed with lefties. But I want us to just pass legislation, let people see it in the light of day, and put our ideas out there and just show the country. And that’s the kind of elections we want. I don’t want to just spring things on people. I like putting up bills out there like my budget. Put them out there, let everybody see it, let everybody digest it, maybe make some changes with your colleagues if they want to make changes, and then just have the vote. That’s how I like doing those things.
HH: Okay, so then on those three, the home mortgage interest deduction, the charitable deduction, the state income tax deduction…
PR: So you want my candid opinion?
PR: I would limit the home mortgage so that it’s for middle income people. I would not limit the charitable, because I very strongly believe in a vibrant civil society, and I do believe that that’s really the only open-ended tax expenditure I think that there ought to be, because you do not want to suffocate and choke off private civil society, because then government is invited to take even more of that space away from us. So I do believe for charities and churches, that that should still be there. And as, look, no offense, I know you’re a Californian, but why should we in Wisconsin whose government is cleaning up its act, balancing its budget, not having a pension problem, pay higher taxes for your dysfunctional government.
HH: That’s a great question.
PR: I just don’t see that.
HH: No one in Washington has ever called, there’s a great answer. Arthur and I have talked about this. It’s because of reliance damages. Americans build their lives on certain assumptions concerning home mortgage deductibility…
PR: Look, give us, I’d rather have everybody have lower tax rates as a result, but by getting rid of that particular deduction. And then you know what, if you don’t like your state tax, go to Sacramento and go to Madison. Go complain to your governor or your state representative, but don’t make people from states that have got their fiscal house in order pay for the states that don’t. Why should Wisconsin pay for Illinois?
HH: Mr. Chairman, I was about to tell you that, but Jana once told you, and I love this story in your book, The Way Forward. She said sometimes, people don’t want to hear your answer. They want you to hear their answer. So my answer is, you know, if you move to California on the basis of state income tax deductibility, but then you guys change it, but you built your life here, isn’t that unfair to millions of people who built their life here?
PR: We’ll give you some heads up.
HH: Well that actually is a fair answer. How about, though, the home mortgage deduction. You want social capital in America to increase, and we’ll talk about that afterwards. The most important thing for everyone is to own a home.
PR: Right, so just not a million dollar home.
HH: But that’s a Wisconsin thing. There aren’t any, you know, in Irvine, California, in Los Angeles, California, in San Moreno, California, there aren’t any non-million dollar homes.
PR: Well yeah, where I come from, that’s a totally fair point. But I’ll give you one more point on that. Somewhere, somehow, you have to crimp back on these tax expenditures, these loopholes, these exemptions, deductions, if you want to get rates down. And the way to grow the economy is look, if you’re a Reagan, Art Laffer guy, you’ve got to get our tax rates down.
— – – —
HH: You know, Mr. Chairman, you write about the government shutdown, that it was a suicide mission on Page 170. I think taking away the home mortgage interest deduction is a suicide mission. I think Americans will spit that out, and that no one calls my show after doing this for 15 years urging me to urge the Republicans to end the home mortgage interest deduction. They actually don’t even call my show and urge that we get below 39, 36%. What they want is stability, predictability, and they want Washington to go away. I am curious, do you think that the Washington D.C. establishment Republican Party actually listens to its grassroots?
PR: I do. I actually do. Not always, but more than ever before. And by the way, I’m not saying get rid of the home mortgage deduction. I don’t know anybody who’s saying get rid of it. There can be limitations. And here’s the other way of looking at that issue. Here’s what you do now. You pay your taxes. You do your IRS 1040 form. You pay higher tax rates, because there are certain write-offs. So you send your money to Washington, and then if you engage in approval that Washington, if you engage in behavior that Washington approves of, then they’ll let you keep some of your money back. Why don’t you just keep it in the first place? Why don’t we just lower your tax rates, and let you keep your money in the first place, and you do what you want with it, because it’s your money after all?
HH: That is a great general point.
PR: That’s the argument.
HH: Great general point, but the specific response is people have equity in their homes. If you limit the home mortgage deduction on the high end, you’re going to lower the value of the high end home, and you’re going to lower the value of every home in America. Thereby…
PR: There would be, no policy would ever be retroactive. It wouldn’t affect any current mortgage or any refinance of a current mortgage. It would only be for any new purchases of new mortgages, and it would still exist only up a certain amount. Let, take a look at the Dave Camp proposal.
HH: I know Dave Camp’s proposal. It’s a nightmare. It’s a horrible proposal. You’ll end up, politically…
PR: Not just the mortgage. You get to write off the first half of a million dollars of mortgage. It’s not like you lose it if you have a $700,000 dollar mortgage. You get $500,000 of the $700,000 dollars of a new mortgage, and it doesn’t even apply to your current mortgage.
HH: I know that, but you end up hitting the top end of the housing market, which ends up, you’re a market guy. You know that if you reduce the value of the highest valued home, you will reduce the value of the lowest valued home, because there aren’t any new homes created by mathematical tricks. Similarly, if you take away the income tax deduction from New York and California, you will cause an outflow of those states which will accelerate their bankruptcy, destroying the social capital and increasing the spiral that your anti-poverty message increases. In other words, these are all complicated conversations.
PR: They are, but there’s one element you’re forgetting about this conversation that I have to add. Don’t forget that the reason these ideas are even discussed, that they’re entering into this conversation, is so that that high end guy you’re talking about, which is invariably a small business owner, is no longer taxed at 44.6%, which is the top federal tax rate. They are taxed at 25%. So that person in exchange for not having as much of a write-off in that area against effectively an almost 45% tax rate, is at a 25% tax rate…
PR: …again, back to the theory of you just keep it in the first place.
PR: We’re lowering your rates in exchange for less of a write-off, but you have a lower rate to begin with, so you keep that money to begin with.
HH: But Mr. Chairman, I think you know this, if you take away the deductibility of the state income tax, and the home mortgage deduction tax, their rate isn’t going to be 25%. It’s going to be closer to the 44% that they started with, and you will have massive dislocation, and the social capital of home ownership will decline. But let me, people, we’ll have that argument. I just want to have it.
PR: That’s a great one. I love having it. Believe me, I enjoy these things.
HH: Now let me ask you, though, about immigration. Now here’s a second example. I was surprised to learn that you were on the right side of 187. Pete Wilson sparked it up back in the day, because I opposed 187 like Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett, and I actually lived here and had to put up with the people out here that wanted 187. It was a nightmare. But now we confront a point of immigration reform in your book, and you talk about border security, but you never mention the fence. Now again, the grassroots, 100%, and Charles Krauthammer and George Will, who are not Mr. Grassroots, they all want to build a double-sided, big, highway fence, a huge fence. You don’t talk about it. Is that responsive to the grassroots?
PR: Oh, no, I mean, I guess I should have just assumed, I assume they know a fence. I mean, it’s implied. And to me, a fence is, I voted for the fence. It hasn’t been completed. I voted to streamline the rules to clear the barriers so that the fence can be completed. So that’s part of securing the border. You know, you can put any great level of detail of policy in a book like this. When I mean secure the border and do everything you need to do to secure the border, which is what I say, that’s what I mean.
HH: All right, well, that’s another level of specificity that I think needs to be in there, because I think grassroots don’t trust Washington, because they’ve heard a lot about border security, but no one ever mentions the fence, because pollsters have told you guys not to mention the fence.
HH: There’s a lot about Janesville. There’s also…
PR: I mention the fence all the time. I voted for it repeatedly.
HH: I just noticed it wasn’t in the book. Common Core is not in the book. It may be the most volcanic issue in the party right now. I know you can’t put everything in the book, but what’s Paul Ryan think about Common Core?
PR: I don’t support Common Core. I think it leads to federalizing curriculum, which I think is a very dangerous trend to put ourselves on.
HH: All right…
PR: Again, like you said, there’s a million issues you could throw in there. I talk about education reform in different ways, but I do not support Common Core. By the way, when I wrote this, which is a little bit ago, the Common Core fight, we already flushed it back in the House of Representatives. We’re not doing it.
HH: And so your advice to Republicans everywhere is to stand up and say this has got to be over?
PR: Yeah, I told, my advice to my governor, Scott Walker, was don’t accept Common Core, and just go it alone in Wisconsin.
HH: All right, now what about, this book feels a lot like books that presidential candidates write.
PR: (laughing) Basically what I wanted to do, because you don’t in the legislature often get to define yourself. You don’t even get to define the votes you want to take sometimes. I wanted to define myself. I wanted to try and, I learned a few good lessons from being on a national ticket on what it really takes to win a national election, and I want to do everything I can, my part for the party, just like some of my mentors, Bill Bennett and Jack Kemp did, to try and get conservatism to be a majority movement in America, to make it more appealing, to make it something we can win elections. And whether or not that means running for president or not, I don’t know the answer to that. I candidly and honestly, Hugh, do not know the answer to that question. But I do know that starting now, in 2014, we can’t just be defined about what we’re against. We have to define ourselves as to what we’re for. I don’t like the direction the country is headed. I don’t like the liberal progressive philosophy that is being advanced in Washington. And I feel as an elected representative, as a leader, I have an obligation to say how I would do things differently, what philosophy I would employ, the founding philosophy, and what those policies look like, and how we can do things differently. And I also think it’s important to say that we can get it right. You know, big problems are urgent. They’re real, but they’re not insurmountable. We can turn things around.
— – – —
HH: Not only is Chairman Ryan’s new book, The Way Forward, linked, and you should read it, especially for its message about the underclass, the under, no I don’t want to call them the underclass.
HH: I want to call them people who are deeply injured by life, and they’re screwed, really, by circumstances of birth or genetics, sometimes. And you write a lot about Detroit in this book, which impressed me. That’s the part I liked, about Janesville and Detroit. And conservatives can fix Detroit, Paul Ryan, right? You believe that?
PR: That’s right. Absolutely, I do believe that.
PR: I believe, yeah, go ahead.
HH: Go ahead, and so, this is a three minute segment. When do you have to decide, by what date do you have to decide if you’re going to run for president?
PR: 2015, first half of the year. I’m not exactly sure when, to be honest with you. I haven’t given it that close of an analysis, like what dates, but it’s got to be in the first half of 2015, would be my guess.
HH: All right, would you welcome Mitt Romney’s return to the lists?
PR: I would welcome it. I’ve told him that. I was with him last Thursday. I think he should run. I think people are getting to know who he really is. I think there is buyer’s remorse, and I think he’d make an outstanding president. He says emphatically, though, that he won’t do it.
HH: He’s going to join me on the show tomorrow. I’ll talk to him about that. But what about the Harold Stassen nonsense? I know why it’s nonsense historically, but what do you think about the argument you can’t run three, you can’t be the nominee twice, and you can’t run three times in a row?
PR: It’s been done before.
HH: It has been, but people then say Stassen or William Jennings Bryant, and they don’t know about Taft, and they don’t know about Dewey.
HH: And they don’t know about Nixon.
PR: I mean, there have been, look, I mean, Ronald Reagan didn’t get it the first crack. Look at Nixon, not that I’m a fan of Nixon. I’m not. But look at how many downs he had, and how he came back. Pat Buchanan has an interesting book out on that. I mean, you know, I just wish he would. I think he’d be a unifier. But I just, I’ll take Mitt at his word, and he’s pretty clear he’s not going to do it.
HH: Now your chairman, who started the show today, has been a magnificent chairman, because he’s reformed the primary schedule and the debate schedule.
HH: Do you think the reforms to the debate schedule are good ones?
PR: Yeah, I think it’s a really good idea. I think it’s also good to move the convention up so you get your general election money early. And I think the party should pick the moderator instead of CBS picking the moderators like George Stephanopoulos. I think what was happening there was Mitt came out of that primary, 23 debates, cash-strapped in May. Obama pounded him in the battleground states, May, June, July and the first couple of weeks in August, where not until the convention did we get our general election money where we could really mount a full-throttle campaign. And so I think that put us at a huge competitive disadvantage. And Reince also is doing a lot on the technology front, the turnout front. We did candidly get beat on turnout. And we can’t let that happen again.
HH: And you’ll be welcoming…
PR: There are a lot of details, and I think Reince is dealing with those.
HH: 30 seconds to the break, and we’ll be right back. We’re going to talk about the House leadership coming up. But you’ll be welcoming me as a moderator, I assume, for one of these debates, Mr. Chairman?
PR: That would fine by me.
HH: All right, just checking, because I’ve sometimes had a jinx effect on Paul Ryan.
— – – — –
HH: Mr. Chairman, went we went out last hour, I said sometimes I jinxed you. I was the guy that asked you the stupid marathon question.
PR: That’s right. I remember that.
HH: And so, and we sparked it up over the cut to the retirement benefits, etc.
HH: But here’s my real argument with your book, the thing that really stunned me, actually. I like John Boehner. He’s a man from Ohio. He grew up in tough circumstances. He’s an Irish Catholic. I like him a lot. I’ve known Kevin McCarthy for 25 years. I like him a lot. But the House leadership in the last 18 months, you write about John, “One thing I like about John is he always speaks his mind. You know where he stands and what he thinks.” John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, despite a combined 100 invitations, not one of them has appeared on this show in the last two years.
PR: Yeah, I don’t understand that. That puzzles me. I don’t, Kevin doesn’t come on, either?
HH: No. None of them, and they don’t go anywhere. They don’t talk to Levin, they don’t show up with Laura Ingraham. That’s why Eric Cantor got beat.
PR: Yeah, I don’t get that. I don’t have a good answer for you. I wish I did. Sorry.
HH: Okay, so that leads me to leadership in the House. I have been told that the Speaker wasn’t going to stand for reelection, but now that the majority leader was defeated, and he’s been replaced by Kevin McCarthy, he doesn’t think there’s anyone but you who can run the House.
PR: I know.
HH: I agree with him.
PR: Everybody says that. Look, I make my decisions on what I feel is right for me and my family. That’s a job where you’re expected to travel all weekend. My kids are 9, 11 and 12 years old. I’m doing Cub Scouts, cross country, soccer, Mass with my family, and I’m just not going to spend my weekends away from my family. It’s just that simple.
HH: Can I put it in tough terms to you?
PR: And I prefer being a policy chairman. I prefer being a committee chairman writing the policy, which is very important. It’s got to get done right. And it’s one where I can have good balance in our lives.
HH: Okay, now this is going to sound harsh, but I don’t mean it to be. I just mean it to be emphatic. I think you’d be the best Speaker. There are lots of men and women who have been deployed six, seven and eight times.
PR: You’re right about that. And I don’t hold a candle to those people, and I can’t even put myself in the same sentence. I wouldn’t even suggest that. It’s just a job that I have been broached with a number of times, and I have, you know, on each of these times, I’ve concluded I prefer being a policy chairman. And it’s not as if I don’t have sway with leadership on the policy decisions we make. I have tremendous sway, and I appreciate having that. But as far as being in that elected leadership position, and not seeing your kids as much, and look, thank God for the men and women who put on the uniform and keep us safe. I’ve got a lot of friends, I’ve got some friends who are over there right now.
HH: Well then, how about Jeb Hensarling is mentioned well in this book. Jeb’s wrong on Ex-Im as well, but he’d be a better Speaker…
PR: You’re listening to John Campbell, who I love, by the way, but you’re listening to him too much on that one.
HH: No, no, it’s our Defense industrial base. We’ve got to keep Boeing, and there’s a long argument there.
PR: All right.
HH: But Jeb Hensarling would be a better Speaker than the Speaker. Can you…
PR: I’m not going to get into personality conflicts. Jeb, as you probably know, is my best friend in Congress, but I’m not going to get into that stuff, Hugh.
HH: Is it a good idea for the Republicans to delay the vote long enough after the new Congress for there to be a healthy discussion about who ought to be the Speaker and the Leader?
PR: We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I’m not going to weigh into that.
HH: All right, let me ask you a different one. Here’s what gets the grassroots crazy, Paul Ryan. It’s when guys like Steve LaTourette, another Buckeye, a big Speaker fan, go off, hang up the coat, go to K Street, make seven figures, and throw bricks at grassroots activists.
HH: This really ticks me off, but I don’t hear any of our guys standing up and telling him to shut up.
PR: Oh, that happens. It just doesn’t happen publicly.
HH: Should it?
PR: Sure. Sure. I mean, to be honest, I heard about what Steve said. I actually haven’t seen what he said. But this is what bothers me about the circular firing squad we find ourselves in. Look, if it weren’t for the Tea Party, there’s no way I would have even passed my budget. I started with eight co-sponsors for these entitlement reforms, for cutting trillions and for balancing the budget and paying off the debt. I got, I passed it four years in a row because of the Tea Party alliance.
HH: Thank you. That’s…
PR: And so look, the way I look at this is don’t look the gift horse in the mouth. These are the people who helped get our party, get us back to our principles. We finally became a fiscal conservative party again like we said we were, but we weren’t acting like it. And so if we want to fix this country’s problems, we have to be a majoritarian movement. That’s the premise of this book. So you know, good Lord, stop this circular firing squad. Let’s agree, you know, you and I don’t agree on Ex-Im, apparently, and that’s fine. Big deal.
HH: Yeah, big deal. Agreed.
PR: We agree on 90% of the other issues. So let’s focus on that, let’s move forward, and let’s go win converts to our cause so we can win the Electoral College and save this country.
HH: Now here’s the other half of the problem. I just spoke up for the Tea Party. Now I want to speak out against the isolationists. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in Lochner that the 14th Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s social statics. We have neo-isolationism and Hayekism running crazy in our party right now. I mean, they’re people who are not originalists, they don’t have the Hamiltonian strain at all, and they want to withdraw from the world. Are you going to lead the fight against that?
PR: Yeah, I mean, I’m a huge believer in Hayek on economics. And I’ve read everything he’s written, I think. But no, you’re right. You know where I am on foreign affairs and Defense policy. And yes, I am. And I’ve already, just look at my budget on Defense. And look, you and I quibbled about a particular provision, which by the way, the main provision was to make sure that they couldn’t take money from Defense and spend it on domestic. But if you look at the fact that we are trying to rebuild our defenses, stop this administration from taking a hacksaw to our military, I very strongly believe in that. I believe if there isn’t an America boldly leading and asserting our principles, and having the strongest indisputable military the world has ever known, then we are in trouble. And yes, there is that strain in our party. I want those people to be in our party. I want them to be included. Rand Paul, we always have these debates. But I do believe at the end of the day, I want a strong America, and I talk about this in the book as well, to prevail at the end of the day, and that is a healthy debate within our party, but it should be within our party. And the people who have different views should know that we are their first principles. We believe in the Constitution. We believe in free enterprise and freedom, and self-government under the rule of law, and we may agree or disagree on this Defense issue or that foreign policy issue, but let’s keep it in the party so that we can be a majority party.
HH: Now my friend Levin and I talk quite a lot offline about what’s happened in D.C. And we both believe that it’s, the GOP House is sort of run like a celebrity spa with security guards at the entrance to make sure the public doesn’t get a glimpse of what’s going on with the high end customers. You guys have three day workweeks. The IRS investigation’s gone slow, the VA investigation’s slow, Benghazi’s finally getting started, EPA is on a rampage, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is a nightmare. Why is it so lackadaisical, Mr. Chairman? You work, the roadmap took forever. You did it on your own. But what is this culture of we’ll do it, they did it to you before 9/11. They slow-rolled you into the fall.
PR: Yeah, you’re not giving us, I’ve got to push back on that. The only reason you know what you know about the IRS is because of the House and the House Ways & Means Committee hearings. The only reason you know what you know about Benghazi is because of Darrell Issa’s committee. The only reason you know what you know about the VA is because of the VA Committee, because of House conservatives, House Republicans.
HH: I don’t have to disagree with that, but I can say I should know a lot more, that if I was in charge of the town, you guys wouldn’t come home until you had the subpoenas out. Darrell’s a friend. These are all my friends.
PR: Give us the Senate. Give us a Senate, and we can start really using the power of the purse like we need to. Give us a Senate, and we can stop them from putting these kind of people in these executive agencies in the first place. You know, so the point is with one half of one third of government, we’re trying to leverage and utilize it to the best of our ability. We may not get it right every time, but do know that it is not for our lack of trying, our lack of effort. Don’t think that we’re half-hearted on that stuff.
HH: Last question, last question, you more than anyone took bricks from the President. He made it personal. He put you in the front row. He knocked you around.
HH: He went on, and so there’s no reason for you to be reserved on this. And he played low during the presidential campaign as well. How has he handled, do you believe, the beheading of the American and going to play golf? What did you make of it?
PR: I thought the optics were pathetic. I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t, I feel like he’s just sort of checked out. I can’t imagine you would say such a passionately-worded thing and then within 10 minutes be out on the links.
HH: So when he said I care about James Foley and his family, did he not believe it? Or does he have a way to compartmentalize it?
PR: You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, I can’t compartmentalize like that. So I don’t know. But the other, what I want to hear from my commander-in-chief, Hugh, is I don’t want to hear about how we’re reacting to ISIS, how we’re containing them, how we’re responding to things like a possible Yazidi genocide, or a Mosul dam problem. I want to hear that we have a campaign and a strategy to finish him off. Let’s get them while we can still get them, while we know where they are. You know, there’s supposed to be thousands, you know, a hundred to a couple of thousand foreign fighters with foreign passports, and we know that they’re in Syria and in Iraq. Let’s get them. You know, I want to hear that strategy.
PR: And that’s not what we’re hearing.
HH: Mr. Chairman, we’re out of time. You’ve been very generous. Congratulations on The Way Forward. I hope you rethink the House Speakership thing. I really do. I really think you ought to rethink that. That’s just my input to you, and Janice said you should listen sometimes, and so I want you to take your wife’s advice.
PR: I appreciate it, Hugh. It’s been great to talk with you.
HH: Always a pleasure. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, incoming House Speaker or something. We’ll see. His book is linked over at Hughhewitt.com.
End of interview.