First, do me the great honor of pre-ordering The Queen: The Epic Ambition of Hillary and The Coming Of The Second “Clinton Era.” It wasn’t a pleasant, but indeed was a very useful exercise to imagine how she might best go about winning in 2016 and surveying the 2016 GOP field against her many and obvious strengths. It has been 500 years since Machiavelli wrote The Prince. Time for an update.
Audio of Chairman Ryan:
HH: I begin this hour with the chairman of the House Ways And Means Committee, an old friend of the show, Representative Paul Ryan. Chairman Ryan, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you.
PR: Hey, thanks for having me. How have you been, Hugh?
HH: I’ve been terrific.
HH: And I’ve been talking to Wisconsin people left and right, but not you. I do want to begin, though, with the big headline of last night. A couple of homegrown jihadis show up at an event in Dallas…
PR: In Texas, yeah.
HH: …put on by Pam, in Texas, and they intended to wreak havoc. Luckily, they were brought down by police. How worried are you that there are not just two, but twenty or 200 or 2,000 such lone wolves, they weren’t lone last night, they were acting in tandem, around the country?
PR: Well, and I think you need to count Fort Hood in this category as well. I think that was a homegrown jihadist terrorist attack, even though the government doesn’t classify it that way. And so yeah, of course I’m concerned about these things, and yes, I do believe that ISIS has an international reach, and has the ability, and they’ve shown this, to try and inspire others to act on their own volition. And so yeah, this is a real issue.
HH: Are you concerned that our federal law enforcement, though, have a grip on it? They had investigated one of the shooters yesterday and had let him go and weren’t following him.
HH: And it just seems to me like we might be a little overwhelmed and perhaps a little too sensitive about surveilling people about whom we have suspicions.
PR: Well, yeah, I’ve read the coverage about one of the guys, but don’t know all the facts. So I think it’s, anybody should withhold from knee-jerking on whether they did this right or did this wrong. With respect to surveillance, you know, you always have to cool our heads, think this through, and never forget the Constitution and civil liberties. There is, that’s an important thing. And you cannot in a free society like ours ever wrap yourself in an air-tight police state and give yourself 100% guaranteed security without absolutely compromising a person’s individual liberties. And so you’re going to have things like this in the kind of society we have. That’s going to happen. The question is you know, are we minimizing it as much as possible, and is our foreign policy done the right way so that we are ultimately prevailing over these things and we’re not growing more terrorists overseas and at home, or we’re helping shrink the pool of jihadists of those who want to do us harm? And I would argue our foreign policy is just in tatters right now, just absolutely miserable. You and I agree on the size and role of our military has got to be a makeover, because I think our military has suffered as a result. And I think because of our bad foreign policy, we are tempting fate. And that does, in a roundabout way, or in a direct way, come home to roost.
HH: Congratulations, by the way. The Ryan Budget, or 2.0 Ryan Budget, is now the budget of the United States Congress. It’s got to be very satisfactory, though the chairman of the Budget Committee is now Tom Price and not Paul Ryan.
HH: You’ve moved over to Ways And Means, that a lot of your budget is now the operating document or the hardware for the software that will be the appropriations process thanks to last week’s work.
PR: Yeah, I’m very proud of this. We finally have a conference report, meaning we got through all of Congress, because we now have the U.S. Senate. So I’ve been working on budgets for a long time, and this is the first time I’ve ever been able to see our budget go past the House and actually get done all the way through Congress. And so I’m really happy with that. Now we’ve got to just win the presidency so we can actually do the entitlement reforms we need to do, rebuild the military, get this debt under control. The debt crisis is still coming. The baby boomers are still retiring. We haven’t fixed entitlements. And yet with this president, we’re not going to. And the next president has got to be a person that is going to get serious about our fiscal problems, about the size of our government. And I’m just excited that both the House and the Senate now have actually passed a budget that balances the budget and pays off the debt.
HH: Now Paul Ryan, I had a chance to see Rob Wittman last week, who is the chairman of the subcommittee on Armed Services on Sea Power, and he told me that the new budget has in it a line item for the Ohio replacement project. And this is very important to me. Do you think the new budget actually is serious about getting our Navy back to 340-350? I know your friend, Scott Walker, is very serious about Navy strength as he prepares to run for president.
PR: Yeah, so we are going to need to rebuild the Pentagon budget in the next session of Congress, in my opinion. What this budget does is it gives us the fiscal space to buy time for the next two years, and make, and start building in the right direction. But if you ask me whether we have the ability right now with the kind of government we’ve got to actually do what we need to do for our military, I’d say no, we don’t. And I think we need to rebuild the budget by replacing the sequester with entitlement reforms and spending cuts in other areas of government so that we can actually have the 313 is the old ship number, to get north of 300 ships, which is, I believe, what we definitely need, and clearly with Pacific and other needs. Our Navy is far too small. We need a blue water Navy that can respond. We were able to get the George Washington refueled, which gives us 11 carriers, which means only deployed at any one time. So we’ve made progress, but we’re not near what we need to be. And Rob Wittman is really a hero on this point, and he’s really running point on this. So I think we’ve made some good steps in the right direction with this budget. It gives them, they just had a huge bill they wrote in the Armed Services Committee, which again is a good Armed Services reauthorization, but again, new president, you need to rebuild the Pentagon’s budget.
HH: Now Paul Ryan, I mentioned Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson both announcing for president today. When Scott Walker announces, should he announce, will Paul Ryan be on the stage with him?
PR: Well, he’s a very good friend of mine, and I have nothing but good things to say about Scott. But Reince Priebus, another Wisconsin guy, chairman of our party, asked me to chair the thing called the Presidential Trust at the Republican National Committee, which is basically preparing the general election for the nominee. And so I am working with Reince to get the campaign prepared for that nominee when he or she arrives in the nomination. And so as a result, since I’m the chair of this fund to get ready for the nominee, I have to be neutral on this thing, because what I learned in the last election as a part of that is we were not as prepared coming out of the primary for the general election like we needed to be, particularly running against an incumbent. And for all practical purposes, Hillary’s an incumbent, effectively, for campaign reasons. And so I have dedicated myself to making sure the mistakes that we made structurally will not happen again, and that our nominee has a turnkey campaign operation ready and up and running the minute that person comes out of the primary. And so because I’m chairing that effort and helping make sure that’s successful, I have to be neutral on this. So you won’t see me technically on stage, but of course, he’s a good friend of mine, and I wish him the best.
HH: Now I agree with you. Former Secretary is in all effect an incumbent. I have a new book coming out called The Queen: The Epic Ambition Of Hillary And The Coming Of The Second Clinton Era, which just goes through line and verse why she is that. Can she be beaten? And to what extent does her husband, tin-eared yesterday, we were the poorest people since Harry Truman to come out of the White House? This is just not the way to connect with the American people, is it?
PR: Yeah, I think they’ve lost touch big time, and yes, she can beat. I think she can absolutely be beat. I think she’s on a glide path downwards, and I think by then, she’ll almost be an incumbent, and you know, in the minds of voters. And I just don’t think people are going to want, you know, after eight years of progressivism, another four of that, and then just the drumbeat of all the Clinton scandals, of all the Clinton fatigue, I just don’t think people are going to sign up for four more years of that, especially since what she’s going to be pushing is more of the same that we’ve gotten. And look where we are. So I just don’t, I just, and she was an architect of this God-awful foreign policy that we have. So I do believe she’s very beatable. She’ll have a lot of money, and she’ll have a lot of institutional biases in her favor, but I do believe that we are primed and ready. And so what I’m trying to do in Congress is help build the issues, build the platform, get the ideas up and running – welfare reform, entitlement reform, balancing the budget, tax reform, getting people out of poverty, upward mobility, showing that applying our founding principles to the problems of the day offer much, much better solutions than what the progressives have been offering, and trying to get this campaign ready is what I’m trying to do so that we can win.
HH: When you say that they have lost touch big time, you went inside that bubble when you were the nominee of the Republicans for vice president. You know how tough that bubble is to get out of. Is that inevitable given that she’s been in the bubble since basically 1991?
PR: You know, it’s funny you say that, because I remember, my wife and I talked about this at the end of the campaign. And I was in it for three months, right? Three months of Secret Service, and just basically, you don’t even see, you don’t really touch people except in rope lines after they’ve run through magnetometers. I mean, it’s, it really is a bubble, and I can only imagine that they’ve been in this bubble since the early 1990s. And to be that separated and that distant from Americans, it is really hard for a person to be relatable, I think. And so I just think unless you really know yourself and you get out of that, I just do not think that they can connect very well with people, and that they’re just not there, I don’t think. And so yeah, I think they’ve been in the bubble too long and I think that they’re just not going to come out of it. And I think that they have really lost touch.
HH: Now let’s turn to a subject that you talked about on Face the Nation yesterday, which is the very sad situation in Baltimore and across the United States, and the development of what is in effect an under-underclass, and how the federal government does anything without getting the unintended consequences, which are disastrous, of federal intervention in the lives of people. For example, I was told by someone who knows Section 8 pretty well that if you get married and you’re in Section 8 housing, chances are you’re going to lose Section 8 housing.
PR: That’s right.
HH: So that, you know, that’s a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. What does the federal government do about what is becoming an enormous problem that flares up and we see and manifests itself in racial tension and in terrible situations?
PR: I think the federal government, with all of these programs, when you combine them together, as well-intended as they may have been, has created what I call basically a poverty trap, which is you stack up a lot of these programs, and if you’re a person who wants to go from being dependent on government programs and not working to a person who’s working and work your way up and start climbing that ladder of life and success and earning your success, and being self-reliant, which is what most people want to achieve, you’re actually dis-incentivized from doing so because of federal programs. I mean, the top tax rate in America is not Bill and Hillary Clinton who pay an effective top tax rate of 44.6%. That’s the top income tax rate. The top tax rate is a single mom making $28,000 dollars with two kids who wants to go from welfare to work, but loses eighty cents on the dollar in lost benefits when she tries to take that jump into the workforce. And so you have this system, it traps people in poverty. Obamacare just adds to that, which says you lose more by going and taking that risk and going to work, by losing your benefits and things like this. So you have to have a system not unlike what we did in 1996 with work requirements and time limits for welfare, so that it is that safety net for people who need a temporary helping hand, but gets them up and onto their lives. And you have a safety net for those who really can’t help themselves so that they do lead lives with dignity. We lost sight of this.
HH: Can you do that out of Ways and Means?
HH: Is there anything you can get out of Ways and Means to change that?
PR: Yes, so this is one of the biggest projects we’re engaged in right now on the Ways and Means Committee. We just had a big hearing on work requirements and welfare, and how through the Obama administration they’ve been trying to de-emphasize work. Work, for lack of a better phrase, works. And so what we want to do is get back to, let me just say it this way. When Congress did welfare reform in 1996, it was profound. It really moved people out of poverty. It reduced childhood poverty. It got single moms onto better lives of self-sufficiency. But it reformed one program. There are 72 poverty programs at the federal government that have not been reformed.
PR: And so all these other programs have sort of taken place of the old form, and they’ve basically served to trap people where they are. And so we need another round of welfare reform, which in the Ways and Means Committee, we call welfare reform 2.0, to try and get back to those basic principles which were designed at helping people get up and on with their lives. And so we really want to reignite this engine of upward mobility, getting at the root causes of poverty, helping break the cycle of poverty, and then let’s measure the success of our efforts not by how many programs we can create in Washington or how much money we can spend, or how many people we can get on programs, which is how success is measured today. You know, how many people are on Section 8? It’s, let’s measure success based on how many people get out of poverty, on the outcome, on results.
HH: But does, do Hillary Clinton, does Elizabeth Warren, do Hillary Clinton, does the progressive left, do they have an incentive to do this?
PR: So what we typically run into is, you know, a lot of people think that we’re heartless or that we don’t care, of that if you’re proposing to change the status quo, then you’re against helping people who are poor. And I argue we’ve just had a 50 year experiment on the war on poverty. Trillions were spent, and we haven’t moved the needle on poverty. We’ve still got 45 million people living in poverty. So don’t you think we ought to rethink this? And what I also experience is when you go to poor communities, rural and urban poor communities, and talk to people themselves, they want out of this system. They don’t think the system is working. And so I think that there is a really good opportunity for people who believe in these great founding principles, self-determination, work and upward mobility, opportunity, to reconnect with people who are actually fighting poverty, and to learn from people who are successfully beating the odds in fighting poverty to form a coalition to get off of this ideological status quo, poverty industrial complex status quo we have, and get onto what are really much more effective poverty-fighting solutions. And there are an army of grassroots groups out there in our communities, faith-based, non-faith-based, for profit, not for profit, that are really being successful. Imagine how much better they could do if we remove all these barriers that are making it harder for them to actually get people out of poverty.
HH: Quick last question, Chairman Ryan. Last week on oral arguments on the marriage question, Chief Justice Roberts raised the question about churches that don’t believe in other than traditional marriage losing their tax deduction status like Bob Jones University did back in the Reagan years if the Court rules the wrong way. Is the Ways and Means looking into that, because of course, the most effective anti-poverty programs in America are the Christian Churches and other communities of faiths that are working in the inner city.
PR: Right, we are obviously going to do everything we can to preserve the tax exempt status for churches. Look, I’m a devout Catholic, practicing Roman Catholic. If you’re asking me will we sit content and see churches like my own lose their tax-exempt status because they choose to define marriage however they want to by exercising their free speech rights and their religious freedom, of course we’re going to preserve that tax-exempt status. And I can’t, I just shudder to think what would happen if all these churches actually lose this status by simply expressing their 1st Amendment religious freedom rights.
HH: And am I not right? These churches are the backbone of the actual work of getting people out of poverty?
PR: Yeah, so they are the essence of civil society, which is that space that stands between ourselves and our government. The progressive left would like to shrink that space between a person and her government. Those of us who are Constitutional conservatives, who read de Tocqueville, who believe in these 1st Amendment freedoms in the Bill of Rights, you know, very much believe in breathing life and expanding that space between ourselves and our government, because that’s where we actually live our lives.
HH: Chairman Paul Ryan of the House Ways and Means Committee, great to talk to you. Congratulations on getting Ryan 2.0 Budget through with the assistance of Tom Price and your colleagues across the Senate. Come back and talk to us again soon.
PR: Thanks, Hugh, have a good one, take care.
End of interview.