Little-noticed Paul Ryan comments may signal showdown's next move

As Ryan prepares debt limit bill, one interview suggests he'd give 5 percent of economy "back to private sector"

Published October 1, 2013 1:55PM (EDT)

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI)                                               (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

While 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has largely avoided the media spotlight in the lead-up to today’s government shutdown, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that he was “assembling the debt-limit bill,” that will serve as the GOP’s opening bid in a debt ceiling showdown. And reporters for MSNBC and Politico have highlighted Ryan’s role – through how he wrote his budget plan and wrangled with the Senate - in laying the groundwork for the current confrontation.

These developments make a largely unnoticed 2011 interview all the more significant. In it, the House Budget Committee Chairman and GOP golden boy touted his budget plan as a way to “take five percentage points of the economy and give it back to the private sector,” and offered sympathetic answers to questioners who wanted to move America “away from entitlements” and abolish the Department of Education.

In the summer of 2011, Ryan – then reaping glowing conservative press for proposing to voucher-ize Medicare, and a year from being tapped to join the Romney ticket – joined the conservative podcast Ricochet for an interview. Following some friendly questions, Hillsdale College history professor Paul Rahe asked Ryan how he’d respond to criticism “that your proposal is a band-aid, and it doesn’t deal with the larger question of how do we turn the country around and begin to move the country away from the administrative state and away from entitlements?”

Ryan – who a year later would be stumping with his mom to prove his commitment to protecting Medicare – told Rahe, “I understand exactly what you’re talking about. I agree.” Ryan predicted that the “century-long experiment” with progressivism was “reaching a crescendo.”

“But I would not agree with the premise that ours is just a band-aid…” said Ryan. “We’re proposing to take, you know, five percentage points of the economy and give it back to the private sector, back to people.” He added that in terms of government’s size relative to the GDP, “we’re literally re-transferring from one trajectory to the next.” Ryan then said that in Congress, “people like me have a role to play, which is to reduce the dependence state,” in order to get “from becoming a society of takers to becoming a society of makers.” Ryan also name-checked “a great speech” by The Bell Curve co-author Charles Murray.

Ryan did not immediately respond to a morning request for comment. In a Monday statement on the shutdown showdown, the Wisconsin Congressman accused President Obama of giving “special exemptions to big business, Congress, and his political allies,” and said, “We have an opportunity to help families in need and help grow the economy.”

Ryan was also questioned on the Ricochet podcast by former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson, who bemoaned that Reagan had “just slowed things down” in terms of government’s growth, and hadn’t eliminated the Department of Education. Ryan responded that “debt crisis” in various countries was proving “that the cradle-to-grave welfare state is simply unsustainable.” He told Robinson, “What I’m trying to do is reverse the political fortunes from rewarding the politician making the empty promise to the voter, to rewarding speaking to them candidly about the facts…I do believe that the economic circumstances of our time lead us to that moment.”

By Josh Eidelson

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