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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s Legacy

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United States Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, speaks during the Friends of Ireland luncheon at the United States Capitol March 15, 2018 in Washington, DC.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has just a few days left in office. His successor, fellow Republican Bryan Steil, will be sworn in next week as the new congressman representing the southeastern corner of Wisconsin. Ryan chose not to run for re-election after 20 years in the House. He reflected on his time as House speaker last week in an address at the Library of Congress.

“We have achieved a great deal. We have much to be proud of. Three years ago, when we last gathered in this hall, we began a great journey to set our nation on a better path, to move our economy from stagnation to growth, to restore our military might, and we have kept our promises. This House is the most productive we have had in at least a generation,” Ryan said.

While Ryan says he’s pleased with the work he and other House members have accomplished, not everyone views his legacy the same way. Christopher Murray of Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center for Government in Washington, D.C., says while Ryan is a fiscal conservative, he wasn’t able to control the budget.

“If you think that spending has gotten out of control, you could point to things like a prescription drug benefit, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, none of those things were paid for, and those are things Paul Ryan voted for,” Murray says.

Murray admits that Ryan ran into challenges pursuing his agenda during Donald Trump’s years as president, and says Ryan was only one of hundreds of House members. Yet Murray says it’s fair to lay many problems in the House at Ryan’s feet. Murray says Ryan painted himself as the person of “big ideas” and the “intellectual leader” of the Republican Party and the conservative movement – well before he became House speaker.

“When you become the chairman of the budget committee and the speaker of the House, you have outsized influence in kind of setting the agenda and setting the tone and setting the priorities, so I think his role has been much more than that of just one member. And when you become speaker, it is your job to produce legislative outcomes. That’s why you take the position, that’s why people turn to you. He’s had a tough job – I mean, it drove John Boehner out of town, also. But it’s a bit like if you’re the head coach of a football team and the football team’s not winning and you’re not missing all the tackles and throwing all the incomplete passes, but you’re the head coach and ultimately you get blamed for that,” Murray says.

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