Kind words for Democratic President Barack Obama from Rep. Paul Ryan, a leading figure in the Republican Party and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee?
Yes – but on only one subject, the pursuit of trade agreements with countries in Europe and Asia. And a you might include tax reform, where there may be some room for bipartisan cooperation, Ryan said.
In an “On the Issue with Mike Gousha” session at Eckstein Hall on Monday, Ryan discussed a wide range of subjects, from his thoughts on fighting poverty to Obama’s handling of foreign policy (no kind words on that score) to Ryan’s decision not to run for president in 2016.
Gousha asked why Ryan continued to sound alarms about the national economy when job growth and the overall economic indicators had been strong in recent months. Ryan responded that the economy was growing, but less than the three percent a year that was, in his view, both achievable and important to long-term economic health. And he said the national debt load remains ”catastrophically high” and is on track to grow as baby boomers enter retirement and begin drawing Social Security and Medicare. He said America is facing the most predictable economic crisis in its history and action needs to be taken to avoid that.
While criticizing Obama on matters including foreign policy, military strategy, policies related to poverty, and immigration issues, Ryan described how important it was to reach trade agreements with other countries. “I think President Obama is on the right track here,” Ryan said. He said such agreements would be very good for Wisconsin, with its strong manufacturing and agricultural sectors that will benefit from more exports.
Asked by Gousha about his decision not to run for president, Ryan said he was very committed to his new position as head of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees a wide range of major issues. He said, “I couldn’t ask my colleagues to give me this chair and then phone it in,” which is what would have happened if he was running for president.
He also said that he went with his children to the Cascade Mountain ski area near Portage and to two basketball games over the weekend, things he would have to give up if he were running for president. “They grow up once,” he said of his three school-age chidlren. He said he heard often from people older than him how they regretted not spending more time with their children when they were young, “I don’t want to be one of those people with those kind of regrets,” he said.
Ryan, 45, said, “It’s not like I’m in a hurry. I can always do these things later if I want to. I’m just not one of those people who thinks it’s now or never“ when it comes to a presidential bid.
In broad terms, Ryan outlined his thinking behind proposals he unveiled recently for dealing with poverty in America. He said the federal government spends about $1 trillion a year on anti-poverty efforts and there had been little achieved in terms of “moving the needle” on reducing poverty. He said he wants to be sure that work always pays off people, which means changing some current policies that provide disincentives for working. He also said he favors improving the Earned Income Tax Credit program that helps low income workers and he wants local governments to have more flexibility to decide on how to deal with poverty issues.
Video of the one-hour session may be viewed by clicking here.