For more than half his career, Ryan was a dutiful GOP foot soldier, which meant he voted for many of the budget-busting, Bush-era measures that tea partiers have come to hate. Ryan was a “yes” for expanding Medicare prescription-drug coverage, as well as bailing out the financial sector and automakers.
Then, in recent years, Ryan recast himself as a GOP visionary: instead of seeking compromises with Democrats, he sketched out uncompromised GOP ideals on Medicare and Social Security.
During more than 13 years in Congress, Ryan has passed just two of his bills into law.
But he has still managed a remarkable feat: creating a political persona in which nearly all facets of the GOP can find something to like.
“He had voted for a couple of those things that I might find objectionable,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a conservative freshman. “He had to earn my trust, and he had to earn that credibility.”
Ryan did it, Mulvaney said, by demonstrating that he had deep knowledge of budget issues, and a passion to begin undoing Congress’s past mistakes. “This is not just another politician who’s decided to take an issue and pretend like he knows a bunch about it,” Mulvaney said. “Paul really is the leading expert on this.”
Ryan is the first sitting House member to be chosen as a vice-presidential running mate since then-Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.), in 1984. Since his selection, he has been attacked by Democrats as a ruthless ideologue, whose budget proposals would “end Medicare.”
They’re not totally right about him, either.
Ryan’s latest budget would allow current seniors to keep their Medicare coverage, unchanged. But it would alter the arrangement for those turning 65 after 2023, offering seniors a set amount to buy health plans from private insurers.
The House career that brought Ryan to this moment began in 1999, when he was sworn in as a 28-year-old freshman. His first speech, on March 2 of that year, was in support of a resolution that would reassure the nation’s elderly: If Congress was going to overhaul Social Security that year, it wouldn’t take benefits away from current retirees.
“We need to send a message to our nation’s Social Security retirees, our current beneficiaries, that they will be held harmless,” Ryan said. The measure passed.
But it didn’t matter much: No overhaul actually came.
After a year and a half on the job, Ryan reached a milestone: He passed his first bill. It renamed a post office.
Four years later, Ryan got another bill passed. It lowered the excise tax on the parts used to make arrows.
This is the sum total of Paul Ryan’s changes to U.S. code. After 2006, Ryan’s focus was on a committee — the Budget Committee — whose main job is to produce theoretical statements of policy, not actual law. He has not passed a law since.