House Speaker Paul Ryan joined me this morning:
HH: I’m pleased to welcome back Speaker Paul Ryan to the program. Since this program began in July of 2000, I think the Speaker has been on more than 50 times.
HH: And I want to begin, Speaker Ryan, by saying thank you for being available. A lot of people don’t do that, and you have always been available, and I appreciate that.
PR: You bet, Hugh. No kidding? Wow, 50 times. Geez.
HH: Yeah, we’re getting old. And I’m older than you, but we’re getting…
PR: No kidding. Well, my old boss, my old boss, Bill Bennett, is your predecessor…
PR: So a part of it is just the long term friendship that he and I had, and that you and I have had, so glad to be back.
HH: Well, never before have I asked the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt what I should ask Paul Ryan, and she has a question for you.
PR: What’s that?
HH: Where are you taking Mrs. Ryan in January?
PR: (laughing) She wants to go somewhere warm, she says. I’m a Wisconsinite. I love robust seasons, meaning good winter. My January ideal thing is to go to Northern Wisconsin and snowmobiling and ice fishing.
PR: It’s not really high on my wife’s list. So she actually has said after this session, you’re taking me somewhere warm.
HH: Yeah, I’m not, and by the way, I have speculated the reason you’re leaving now is not any of this stuff that you’ve said, but it’s actually because the Packers’ glory years are over, and you want to catch a couple of home games before it’s done.
PR: Yeah, it’s all going to the Browns now. I’m sure the Browns are just a moment away, just one pick away from the Super Bowl.
HH: We’re rising up. Hey, let’s go serious. You said you’d run through the tape. That means tax reform 2.0, as Kevin Brady called it. Another, CRA, which has been overlooked, you’ve absolutely pioneered using the Congressional Review Act. And the sequester is broken. Thank you, but the approps needed to get done.
HH: How much is there to do this year?
PR: Workforce development, which is, we just marked up the farm bill, and you’re like how does workforce development and farm bill hook into it, that’s our next big push, which is the final installment of Our Better Way agenda. What I mean when I say that is close the skills gap, close the opportunity gap, get people from welfare to work. Workforce, the farm bill, people think it’s like farm programs. 80% of the farm bill is food stamps. And right now, you have a system in America where people who are able-bodied who are not working, who are not looking for work, who aren’t in school, who should be, you know, working are, have been on food stamps for a long, long time. What we believe will help get people from welfare to work is to have a work requirement. So yesterday, the Agriculture Committee pushed through their committee a bill that says if you’re a work-capable adult, you don’t have little kids, you’re able-bodied, you’ve got to work at least 20 hours a week if you’re going to get these benefits and/or go to school and you’re guaranteed to get some job training programs. So it invests the savings you get from a work requirement into making sure you can give people that transition training they need to get the skills they need to get the careers they want. We are now in an era where we have faster economic growth, higher wages, more jobs, more opportunities. We’ve got 6.6 million job openings in America right now. But we’ve got, you know, there are various estimates, but around 10 million people who are able-bodied, work-capable working age who aren’t working and who aren’t looking for a job. So we want to get them into careers. And that, along with career and technical education reform so that people can get skills they need and want to get careers that are out there, that is the final big installment of Our Better Way agenda, in addition to the things you just mentioned. We’re also doing our Dodd-Frank bill. That’s the capstone of our regulatory relief agenda, which is to replace Dodd-Frank, which is really clogging up capital markets especially from community banks from flowing through our communities that go to small and medium sized businesses. So that’s what I mean running through the tape – finishing the agenda we ran on in ’16. We’ve done the rebuild of the military. We’ve done the tax reform. We’ve done enormous amounts of regulatory relief. We’ve done a lot of our poverty work with enterprise zones and the rest. So finish the job on regulatory relief and go work on workforce development, getting people off of welfare, into the workforce, in a good career, vocational or technical education, and let the states be flexible and experiment.
HH: You’ve always been very open, Mr. Speaker, than you mentor is the late, great Jack Kemp. How would he, do you think, evaluate your time not just as Speaker, but as chairman of Ways and Means, chairman of the Budget Committee?
PR: Well, when I was a young staffer working for Jack, we worked on this idea called Enterprise Zones to have zero capital gains taxes on investments in poor areas. That was a dream of Jack’s his entire career. I’ve worked on it my entire career. It is now law of the land as part of tax reform. When I worked for Jack, it was after he had done tax reform in ’81 and ’86, but he was, he pioneered the commission in the Bush administration to do tax reform. We’ve been trying to do it for a generation. We got that done, and it’s exactly the kind of tax reform that Jack believed in, that he and I talked about and worked on together. So there’s so many things. Jack was also a big Defense hawk. Not a lot of people knew that about him. But he really understood the value of strong U.S. foreign policy and a strong, indisputably strong military. And we have finally, and you know this issue cold, and when I became Speaker, I got very invested in our military. Why? Because I spent a great deal of my time with the military and our intelligence community. I get the weekly intelligence briefings that you get with your second in line of succession. And I became acutely alarmed and concerned about the hollowing out of our military and our readiness crisis. That is done. We fixed that.
PR: And it’s now underway and getting, you know, being repaired. Those are the things that Jack really cared about, and he also cared about regulatory reform, capital markets, regulatory relief. That’s done as well.
HH: You know, he also cared a great deal about making it one country regardless of color. You’ve got your justice reform initiative.
HH: But I want to ask you about, Rob Portman was on yesterday. Between 65 and 85,000 Americans died from fentanyl last year.
HH: It’s colorblind. Are you going to be able to get the STOP Act passed before you leave, do you think?
PR: Yeah, I think so. And we’re also, there’s about eight opioid bills we’re moving through what we call the Commerce Committee. So that’s another part of our big agenda, which is these, the finishing up our job on opioid legislation. Fentanyl is obviously a big part of that, but there are other opioids that’s of real epidemic flowing through America hitting everybody, every district, every county, every kind of high school you can think of. And that is a big push. So we have more opioid legislation to do as well. So when I say run through the tape, we’ve got some infrastructure bills, opioid bills, more deregulation, regulatory relief, and we’ve got more to do at the end of the year on tax 2.0 like you described and workforce development. So it’s a big, bold agenda. It’s exactly what we told the country we would do when we ran in 2016. And we’re two-thirds of the way not to just passing it out of the House, but through getting it into law, which is going to make an enormous difference for a long time in this country. And honestly, Hugh, one of the reasons why I’m comfortable retiring after 20 years is I’m very pleased with how much we’ve been able to accomplish and get done.
HH: It’s a lot. It’s amazing.
PR: Yeah, it’s a lot.
HH: Now let me look about after the tape, though. Your friend, Eric Cantor, went into finance. Your friend, Reince, went back to the law, and he and I work for Washington Speaker’s Bureau, maybe you’ll be doing that. AEI is going to need a president. What do you imagine doing after the tape?
PR: I don’t know. You know, I, my plan is to figure out the plan in 2019 and not consume myself with that while I have all this work to do. I just think it’s the appropriate thing to do. I’m focused on keeping our majority. I’m focused on campaigning with our members. And I’m focusing on finishing this agenda. Then after all of that, I’ll figure that stuff out. I’ve got…
HH: If one of these bigs, like if Jeff Bezos, who’s a pretty smart guy, comes in and says hey, Mr. Speaker, come join the board of Amazon, or Google, or Netflix, one of the bigs, would you do that, because it seems to me Silicon Valley, as Mark Zuckerberg said, is so left wing.
PR: It is. Yeah, it’s left wing.
HH: Would you do one of those?
PR: I have no clue, Hugh. I, it’s weird. My mind, I’m a fairly disciplined person. And the way I do this stuff is that’s, those are things I’m going to figure out later. They’re, I’m a cause guy. You know, I’m a cause guy. I came from the think tank world, worked my way up, and then got elected to Congress when I was 28 years old. So I’m obviously going to keep staying involved in these causes that we all believe in. That’s the one thing I know. There’s charities I care about, causes I care about, upward mobility and poverty are issues that are really near and dear to my heart. And that’s what I know I’ll do. And other than that, you know, we’ll figure all that stuff out. And honestly, I just don’t think I should be spending my time thinking about that with all this work yet to do this year. And I can figure that stuff out in 2019, after taking my wife to the beach.
HH: If the Miami Redhawks call, if Miami calls and says join our board, I hope you’ll listen to them. Let me ask about, Ron Johnson is going to step down in five years. Have you ruled out coming back to elected politics?
PR: Yeah, yeah, I’m not going to do that. No, I’m not going to do that.
HH: Oh, you’re not? Definitely?
PR: No, no. Yeah, I wouldn’t do that.
HH: All right, you’ve got these three kids, and I believed immediately when you walked out, because I’ve been a dad who refused to move because my kids were in high school, and I wanted to be there for the games. Are any of them athletes?
PR: Yeah, they all are. So I don’t get to do those. I don’t get to go to those week…as Speaker of the House, when you’re in recess, you’re not at home as a normal member of Congress is. You’re on the road helping your team. So the challenge is I’m always gone on all weekdays, for the most part. And my kids only know me as a weekend dad, and they’re 13, 14 and 16 years old. And you just think, you know, three years of this pace, I can do. But five years, meaning two more years, and they’re basically blown through high school. And they’ll only know me as a weekend dad. And that, to me, look, I lost my dad when I was 16. You know, a Ryan male in my family hasn’t made it to the age of 60 in three generations. So it gives you a sense of life is precious and you want to make the most of it. And right now, I just feel like I’ve done so much, I’ve accomplished most of what I came here to do. I do not want my kids to look back and only know me as the guy who was home on weekends.
HH: So I want to know as a bleacher dad, are you a screamer or are you a quiet dad?
PR: No, no, I’m a pretty quiet dad. I don’t scream. I cheer. I don’t scream. For basketball, my boys play basketball, I run the scoreboard. So you can’t do anything. You can’t, I’m just the scoreboard…
HH: Why am I not surprised? (laughing)
PR: Yeah (laughing) so I just, I keep the scoreboard, so I just keep my mouth shut.
HH: Okay, and let me go, then, to a couple of quick issues before you leave. President Trump – now you’ve gotten to work with one of the most unusual figures in American politics. I view him as the wrecking ball president. He came through, he’s clearing out a lot of stuff. What’s the best and worst of working with a transitional, transformative figure who has changed everything?
PR: He, what I keep telling people is he has so shuffled the deck that it has unlocked so much potential for us to do. What people, I don’t think, realize is just how much regulatory sanity he has restored to the country. I mean just look at the energy sector itself. And talk about good foreign policy, good job policy, good economic policy, when you go to the gas pump or you pay your utility bill, you’re sending that money to America instead of the Middle East, instead of to financing terrorism and the rest. It, because of Donald Trump’s election, we now are going to be the dominant player in energy markets. Why? ANWAR is open. We no longer have a ban on the export of crude oil. Fracking regulations are made sane at the state level. So I was in Midland, Texas not too long ago. The Permian Basin just is part of Texas. Just that one oil field is as large as the Saudi Arabian oil field. So we have a Saudi Arabia of oil we’ve now discovered that we can use in just this part of Texas. That’s before we opened up ANWAR in Alaska, which we’ve been trying to do for 37 years. That’s before you look at North Dakota or Pennsylvania or the rest of Texas. It’s incredible, and that’s just one sector of this economy. Millions of dollars going back into the American economy – jobs, you name it, why? Because this president shook the system up. This president reshuffled the deck. Tax reform has been something I’ve been working on for 20 years as a member of Congress, could not get it until we got Donald Trump elected president.
HH: So what’s the worst? What’s the downside?
PR: Well, there’s some unpredictability, and it keeps people guessing.
PR: That’s why, I could do with a few less tweets is what I would say is the, he and I talk about this all the time. But I could do with a few less tweets.
HH: All right, let me ask my last question, and you can say this, because you’re not invested in it. I’m concerned about the safety of our members, not since the baseball field incident, but always, because politics in America is crazy…
HH: And the 1% on both ends are crazy. What’s your message to the public about the safety of your members and how we ought to take that more seriously?
PR: We addressed a lot of those issues after Steve got shot, after that shooting. And there are lots of threats on our members, and so that’s something. We have our own police force here in the Capitol. As Speaker of the House, I oversee that entire operation. And so we’ve addressed quite a bit of those threats. Here’s the point I guess I would make is people are spirited. People have strong opinions. Keep it civil, because when you escalate your own rhetoric, you can turn someone else in a different direction, and some people may not be as, have as much self-control as you do. So be careful what you say, because you can set someone else off. And that’s what you have to worry about. You have, you have a lot of, I’d say, 21st Century technology. The digital age has brought out great things in this country, but it’s also brought out some dark things in this country. And that has brought a level of threat and violence to public officials that we haven’t seen in, you know, probably ever. And so…
HH: I agree.
PR: So we take that stuff real seriously.
HH: Well, I hope, and speaking of that technology, I hope Bezos or somebody else reaches out to you. Again, thank you for your availability. I look forward to talking to you as you run through the tape, Mr. Speaker. Thanks for joining me this morning.
PR: My pleasure. Thanks, Hugh. Have a good one.
End of interview.