Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Rep. Paul Ryan (R)

Wisconsin District 1

Leadership: Speaker of the House

N/A

paulryan.house.gov

Biography

Elected: 1998, 9th term.

Born: January 29, 1970, Janesville

Home: Janesville

Education: Miami U. of OH, B.A., 1992

Professional Career: Aide, U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten, 1992; Advisor & speechwriter, Empower America, 1993-95; Legis. dir., U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, 1995-97; Mktg. consultant., Ryan Inc. Central, 1997-98.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Catholic

Family: married (Janna) , 3 children

Paul Ryan, a Republican elected in 1998 at age 28, chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee and is regarded as an intellectual leader in the GOP for his unrivaled influence on fiscal matters. He was the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012, and his annual budget proposals became the party doctrine on controlling spending. He was discussed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, but took himself out of the running in January 2015. "Our party has a responsibility to offer a real alternative," he said. "So I'm going to do what I can to lay out conservative solutions and to help our nominee lead us to victory."

Ryan grew up in Janesville, where in 1884 his great-grandfather started a family construction firm, now run by his cousins. His father, a Republican lawyer, and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold’s father had law offices in the same building, and the two sons were friends in Congress before Feingold’s 2010 defeat. Ryan got started in politics early, as a staffer for Republican Sen. Bob Kasten while attending college at Miami University in Ohio. During summers, he was a salesman for Oscar Mayer and can boast that he once drove the company’s incomparable Wienermobile. He planned to apply to the University of Chicago and eventually become an economist, but says he “just kept getting really interesting jobs” in politics.

Ryan was hired as a speechwriter for Republican Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and then worked for the think tank Empower America founded by Kemp and conservative pundit William Bennett. He later was legislative director for then-Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. In his days as a poorly paid congressional staffer, Ryan moonlighted as a waiter and a fitness trainer. His father and grandfather both died of heart attacks in their 50s, making Ryan, the father of three young children, particularly mindful of a healthy diet and an exercise regimen. Washingtonian magazine’s survey of anonymous congressional staffers in 2010 named him the House’s biggest “gym rat.” In 2012 and 2014, he won the “workhorse” category.

In 1998, Ryan returned to the 1st District to run for the House when GOP Rep. Mark Neumann ran for the Senate (Neumann lost to Feingold). Ryan won the Republican primary with 81% of the vote. Democrats nominated Kenosha County official Lydia Spottswood, who had lost to Neumann in 1996. Ryan campaigned against tax increases and in favor of gun ownership rights. This was a strenuously contested election, one of the Democrats’ top 10 priorities in the nation that year. Spottswood spent $1.33 million, and Ryan spent $1.24 million. However, the results were not close. Ryan won 57%-43%.

In the House, Ryan has been a loyal conservative, especially since Barack Obama became president. Previously he had a reputation as someone who occasionally bucked his party and took centrist positions on foreign policy and some social issues. In 2007, he voted for a bill to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and later said he supported the bill because he had friends “who didn’t choose to be gay … they were just created that way.” He said he “took a lot of crap” for the vote from social conservatives. He also voted for the 2008 government bailout of the domestic auto industry, citing mounting hardships in his district because of factory layoffs.

As he took over Ways and Means, Ryan signaled his strong desire to find agreement with Obama on a few potential areas, including tax reform, trade and infrastructure. But he provoked Democrats by passing seven separate tax breaks out of the committee despite the minority's objections. “I think it goes counter to tax reform,” Michigan's Sander Levin, Ways and Means' top Democrat, told The Hill. “Because you’re sending the wrong signal, that somehow you’re going to do this piecemeal instead of sending the signal that, let’s do something comprehensively.”

Ryan was the top Republican on Budget since 2007, when he vaulted over 12 more senior Republicans on the committee. Like his political mentor, the late supply-sider Kemp, Ryan advocates tax cuts to spur economic growth but says his views also have evolved to put equal weight on keeping deficits low and government growth in check. His beliefs drew widespread attention in 2009, when he began warning of future fiscal problems in dire terms. The debt, he told The Washington Post, was “completely unsustainable” and would “crash our economy.” Democrats said such rhetoric came to typify Ryan’s approach— though they praised his affability, they accused him of overstating budgetary hazards and then refusing to accept any solutions other than his own. “It’s very important not to mistake congeniality with compromise,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who became the ranking Democrat on Budget, told the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

In 2009, Ryan helped write the Republicans’ alternative to Obama’s first budget, along with Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, a close ally of Ryan’s. Ryan and Cantor pushed House Minority Leader John Boehner to include details about how the party would control spending and trim the deficit,but Boehner steered it away from specifics that could be picked apart by Democratic critics. The plan ultimately was panned in the press for lacking detail, and the effort was scrapped.

Undeterred, Ryan in 2010 produced a detailed “roadmap” to economic recovery as an alternative to the majority Democrats’ budget, which he said was chock full of “reckless borrowing.” His document called for a dramatically simpler tax code of two rates, 10% on annual income up to $100,000 for joint filers and 25% on income above that. Ryan’s plan also called for breaking the link between employment and health insurance by switching from tax incentives for employer-provided insurance plans to tax credits for individual purchases of insurance. It would transform Medicare for Americans younger than 55 into a voucher system providing an average $11,000 for the purchase of government-approved policies. Most of the Republicans who ran for and won House seats in 2010 campaigned on Ryan’s message of immediate and bold action on the deficit.

In 2011, Ryan pronounced himself highly disappointed with Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal, contending it did little to rein in spending over 10 years. Answering Democratic taunts that Republicans had no detailed response of their own, Ryan rolled out an alternative to much conservative fanfare. Titled “The Path to Prosperity,” it called for freezing most domestic spending for five years and repealing the economic stimulus law in the course of cutting spending more than $6 trillion over 10 years, shrinking federal spending as a percentage of the economy to its lowest level since 1949.

The most immediately controversial feature of Ryan’s budget was its plan for Medicare. Like his earlier “roadmap,” individuals who turned 65 before 2022 would continue under the current program, while others would get a government subsidy to buy private insurance. Many Democrats and some economic commentators sharply questioned the disparity, as well as the impact its cuts would have on the poor and middle class. In an April speech, Obama said Ryan’s approach would lead to a country that is “fundamentally different than what we’ve known throughout our history.” The House passed the budget in April, with 235 of the chamber’s 239 Republicans backing it and every single Democrat opposing it.

Polls showed strong majorities of Americans opposed to the Medicare aspects of his budget. Democrats quickly began incorporating such sentiments into their effort to retake control of the House in 2012. Even some Republicans grew uneasy. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, fresh from announcing his intention to run for president, called the budget “radical” in May and added, “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.” Ryan responded to a conservative talk-radio host, “Hardly is that (budget) social engineering and radical. What’s radical is kicking the can down the road.”

In March 2012, Ryan offered another budget plan that cut discretionary spending below the levels agreed upon by Congress in 2011. It would have overhauled Medicare and Medicaid and repealed the 2010 health care law signed by Obama. His budget squeaked out of committee and passed the full House, 228-191; it later failed in the Senate, 41-58, with five Republicans opposing the measure.

Ryan is considerably more conservative than the balance of his district. Still, he is secure in the seat, having cruised to reelection in 2010 with 68% of the vote. As his political stock rose, he was mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate, but Ryan told a Milwaukee television station in February 2010 he wasn’t interested: “My head’s not that big, and my kids are too small.”

Nevertheless, Ryan emerged as a potential dark-horse vice presidential pick during the summer of 2012. Likely nominee Mitt Romney was reportedly also considering Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He eventually selected Ryan, viewed by some political observers as a riskier choice given Ryan’s controversial views on the budget and his willingness to enact sweeping entitlement reforms. But Ryan and Romney had a strong working rapport, and aides to Ryan said later that before he accepted the offer, he received assurances that he would play a central role on economic matters, as Vice President Dick Cheney did on national security during George W. Bush’s presidency.

The selection of Ryan kicked off a debate about Medicare that overshadowed Republicans’ desire to make the election a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy. The Romney-Ryan plan called for a new premium support plan beginning with new Medicare beneficiaries in 2023. Seniors would pick from private plans or could choose traditional Medicare, all of which would be offered on a new Medicare exchange. Democrats portrayed those efforts as intended to dismantle the social safety net, leading Ryan to respond that Obama “robbed Medicare” to pay for his health care law. But independent fact-checking sites such as PolitFact.com noted that, although Obama’s health care law was slated to reduce the amount of future spending growth in Medicare, it did not actually cut Medicare. The Obama campaign also pointed out that Ryan’s own past budget plan had relied on the same $700 billion savings in Medicare.

Democrats portrayed Ryan as someone who couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. His address to the Republican National Convention, which contained factual errors, fed that narrative. Ryan mentioned a shuttered General Motors auto plant in his hometown that he said Obama had promised to keep open; the plant had closed in 2008 before the president took office. Ryan didn’t help matters when he subsequently was found to have exaggerated his time in completing a marathon race.

Ryan drew mostly positive marks for his spirited performance on the stump. But his presence on the ticket didn’t enable Romney to win Wisconsin; Obama prevailed there by 7 percentage points. Because he was already on the ballot for reelection to his House seat when Romney chose him, he stayed in that race and easily beat Democrat Rob Zerban, 55%-43%.

Back in Washington in 2013, Ryan asked for and received a waiver from GOP term limits to continue as Budget chairman—a request that was denied to less-prominent Republicans in the past. In response to criticism that his earlier budgets took too long to get into balance, his fiscal 2014 proposal called for reaching that level within a decade, again through steep spending cuts. It passed the House on a 221-207 vote with no Democratic support.

But Ryan proved later that year that he was willing to work with Democrats. He and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., struck a two-year budget deal that called for raising new revenue through fee increases without tax increases or controversial reforms to Social Security or Medicare. It also replaced steep budget cuts under the looming "sequester" in January with targeted spending cuts. Despite criticism from conservative groups such as the Club For Growth and Heritage Action, Ryan's clout helped it pass the House on a 332-94 vote, with 169 Republicans voting in favor of it.

Ryan's work on the budget deal, and his subsequent efforts to get an immigration overhaul through the chamber, sparked speculation that he might one day seek to become speaker of the House. But Ryan told a San Antonio luncheon audience that he wasn't interested. “I could’ve decided to go on the elected leadership route years ago,” he said. “I’m more of a policy person." Instead, he expressed hope he could take over Ways and Means when internal term limits forced Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., to step aside in 2015.

In 2014, Ryan's visits to the crucial presidential states of Iowa and New Hampshire spurred renewed talk about his future. He said he hadn't made any decisions about 2016, but reportedly told a group of donors at a private meeting in New York to "keep their powder dry" as he considered his options. However, he subsequently decided it wasn't worth entering what became a crowded GOP field. The House in April passed another one of his budget blueprints on a party-line vote -- though 12 GOP lawmakers refused to back it, up from 10 the previous year. Several of the dissenters complained the measure wasn't conservative enough, but a handful of moderates in competitive districts saw it as too draconian.

Ryan affirmed his considerable fundraising prowess by taking in $1.6 million in the second quarter of 2014, reporting more than $3.8 million available for his campaign. But he touched off a firestorm of criticism when he said he was looking at overhauling poverty programs to address the "real culture problem ... of men not working." He also said safety-net programs such as unemployment insurance were a "hammock that ends up lulling people in their lives into dependency and complacency." In response to attacks from Democrats that he was being racist, Ryan called his comments "inarticulate."

He subsequently released his anti-poverty plan, which called for giving states more autonomy to administer their own anti-poverty programs. “We don’t want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty," he said on NBC's Meet the Press. "We want to get at the root causes of poverty." To receive so-called "opportunity grants" offering federal assistance, poor families would be required to work with government agencies, nonprofit or for-profit groups to develop “life plans" that would include a time limits for receiving money" and sanctions for not meeting goals. Democratic critics said while the plan offered some positive proposals, such as reforming mandatory sentences to reduce prison overcrowding and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, it amounted to a fresh repackaging of old conservative ideas.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-3031

(202) 225-3393

LHOB- Longworth House Office Building Room 1233
Washington, DC 20515-4901

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-3031

(202) 225-3393

LHOB- Longworth House Office Building Room 1233
Washington, DC 20515-4901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(608) 752-4050

(608) 752-4711

20 South Main Street Suite 10
Janesville, WI 53545-3959

DISTRICT OFFICE

(608) 752-4050

(608) 752-4711

20 South Main Street Suite 10
Janesville, WI 53545-3959

DISTRICT OFFICE

(262) 637-0510

(262) 637-5689

216 Sixth Street
Racine, WI 53403-1216

DISTRICT OFFICE

(262) 637-0510

(262) 637-5689

216 Sixth Street
Racine, WI 53403-1216

DISTRICT OFFICE

(262) 654-1901

(262) 654-2156

5031 Seventh Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140

DISTRICT OFFICE

(262) 654-1901

(262) 654-2156

5031 Seventh Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 771
Janesville, WI 53547-0771

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 771
Janesville, WI 53547-0771

Staff Leadership Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Agriculture

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Appropriations

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Budget

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Campaign

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Commerce

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Education

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Energy

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Environment

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Family

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Finance

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Foreign

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Govt Ops

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Health

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Homeland Security

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Housing

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Intelligence

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Judiciary

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Labor

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Medicare

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Military

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Native Americans

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Rules

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Social Security

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Tax

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Technology

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Telecommunications

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Trade

Allison Steil
Deputy Chief of Staff

Transportation

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Veterans

Katie Donnell
Legislative Director

Welfare

Will Miller
Legislative Assistant

Committees

WAYS & MEANS
TAXATION

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Paul Ryan
Votes: 200,423
Percent: 54.93%
Rob Zerban
Votes: 158,414
Percent: 43.41%
2012 PRIMARY
Paul Ryan
Unopposed
2010 GENERAL
Paul Ryan
Votes: 179,819
Percent: 68.21%
John Heckenlively
Votes: 79,363
Percent: 30.1%
2010 PRIMARY
Paul Ryan
Votes: 76,542
Percent: 100.0%
2008 GENERAL
Paul Ryan
Votes: 231,009
Percent: 63.97%
Marge Krupp
Votes: 125,268
Percent: 34.69%
2008 PRIMARY
Paul Ryan
Votes: 11,718
Percent: 99.8%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (68%), 2008 (64%), 2006 (63%), 2004 (65%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (67%), 1998 (57%)

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