Paul Ryan’s non-budget policy record, in one post

August 11, 2012

If you've heard of Paul Ryan, you've heard of Paul Ryan's budget. But Ryan has been in the House of Representatives for 14 years and has proposed many, many other bills. Looking through the Library of Congress's records, I counted 71 bills or amendments that Ryan has sponsored 71 bills or amendments and 971 bills that he has co-sponsored. That's a lot of legislation, and some of it is pretty interesting. As Ezra noted, Ryan sponsored a Social Security privatization scheme that went so far the George W. Bush administration rejected it. So let's dig a little deeper in the Ryan archives.

Social Security

Ryan's Social Security privatization proposal,  the Social Security Personal Savings Guarantee and Prosperity Act of 2005, which he sponsored along with then-Sen. John Sununu (whose father has been a prominent Romney surrogate), would have allowed workers to funnel an average of 6.4 percent of their 12.4 percent payroll-tax contribution to a private account. Lower-income workers would be able to divert more of their wages, as the plan allows 10 percent of income up to $10,000 and 5 percent of income up to the payroll tax cap to be diverted. By default, the private account would be invested in a portfolio set by the Social Security Administration of 65 percent stocks and 35 percent bonds. Workers could choose an 80/20 stock-bond portfolio, or a 50-50 portfolio, but would not be able to pick individual stocks or bonds. At retirement, all participants in the plan would be required to buy an annuity.

The Social Security Administration concluded that the Ryan-Sununu plan would require huge increases in general budget revenue to make up the shortfall left in payroll tax revenue. Specifically, revenue would have to increase by 1.5 percent of GDP every year, an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found, or about $225 billion at current GDP. That's a big honking tax hike. What's more, under the plan, investments in the stock and bond markets would skyrocket such that by 2050, every single stock or bond in the United States would be owned by a Social Security account. This would mean that the portfolio managers at the Social Security Administration would more or less control the entire means of production in the United States.

Funnily enough, Ryan also proposed a resolution in 1999 that passed the House (with only Ron Paul voting against) expressing the sense of the body that Social Security should be maintained without any changes to benefits for current retirees or increases taxes.

Health care

In early 2009, Ryan introduced the Patients' Choice Act as an alternative to the administration's health-care reform efforts. The plan would have converted the employer tax break for health coverage to a refundable individual tax credit, albeit not one tied to income, unlike the credits in the Affordable Care Act. Like the ACA, it sets up state-level exchanges so that individuals can band together for lower premiums, but it doesn't have individual or employer mandates. The plan includes a ban on discrimination based on preexisting conditions and a requirement that insurers issue insurance, but the former is weaker than the provision in the ACA, and both apply only within the exchanges, which are optional for employers. People on the normal individual market could still be denied insurance. As Ezra put it, "It's pretty much exactly what I'd expect a Blue Dog Democrat to propose." For that reasons, left-leaning groups such as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pilloried the plan.

Line-item veto

Ryan has repeatedly sponsored proposals (one more!) that would allow the president to veto specific items in bills, especially budgets. It's a popular idea, across party lines. Congress passed one in the 1990s that was struck down by the Supreme Court, and the House passed a line-item veto proposal written by Ryan and supported by President Obama this February. The new proposal attempts to get around the earlier law's constitutional issues by forcing Congress to vote on the president's revised bills after he's vetoed specific items.

Investment-tax cuts

Ryan has consistently introduced bills to reduce capital gains and dividend taxes. He proposed a bill in 2004 making permanent Bush's 2003 investment-tax cuts, twice proposed cutting the capital gains rate from 20 percent to 15 percent before Bush did just that, proposed allowing corporations to deduct the dividends they paid out and allowing individuals to pay lower capital gains tax rates on dividend income, and proposed making the 2001 Bush tax cuts permanent the same year they were passed.

Energy

Ryan is a skeptical of ethanol and other biomass fuels. He thrice sponsored bills changing the Clean Air Act to require the approved fuel blends to be shown to reduce ozone emissions, and to cap the number of blends the EPA can approve to five.

National Enterprise Zones

The proposal I least expected to find in Ryan's record was a 2004 bill establishing "National Enterprise Zones." These would be economically depressed census tracts in the United States that, under the plan, would be eligible for special income-tax treatment. The idea would be to target income-tax cuts to regions that are doing worst economically.

Federal Reserve

In 2008, Ryan sponsored a bill repealing the requirement that the Federal Reserve act to reduce unemployment, and specifying that it should determine a specific definition of "price stability" and then act to promote that. In the wake of the Asian financial crisis in 1999, he proposed a bill directing the Federal Reserve to never serve as lender of last resort for emerging countries' central banks if those banks peg their country's currency to the dollar, and to not take those countries' interests into account when formulating a monetary policy.

Budget surpluses

In a simpler time when America had a budget surplus to worry about spending, Ryan proposed changing congressional rules to allow for passing tax cuts that decreased the surplus without creating a deficit.

Misc.

Ryan repeatedly sponsored a bill with Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin (who's now in the Senate) to give a tax break to purveyors of college housing. He proposed increasing home-ownership subsidies for veterans. He also sponsored a bill changing the tax treatment of archery!

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Suzy Khimm | August 11, 2012