Paul Ryan knew it was time to move on after 20 years in the House of Representatives. Two terms as the youngest speaker of the House since 1869 was enough for Ryan, who did not seek re-election in 2019.
“My last two terms were Speaker of the House, which is such a consuming job that it really took me away from my family so much more than I really wanted to be away,” Ryan said in an interview with The Observer. “I had three kids in or entering high school at the time, and I knew if I only saw my kids on Sundays, I just wasn’t going to have the kind of relationship I needed or wanted.”
Now, Ryan guest lectures at Notre Dame and serves on the board for the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO). Teaching at Notre Dame was appealing for Ryan after he left Capitol Hill, having grown up a Notre Dame fan in an Irish Catholic household that saw two of his brothers attend the University.
“I’ve been coming to games here since I was 10 years old,” he said.
In addition to teaching at Notre Dame, Ryan currently does additional policy work for the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank. But after 20 years in public sector economics, Ryan made sure to branch out and learn how businesses “actually work and grow.” He is now a partner at Solamere Capital, a private equity firm, and also serves as vice chairman of Teneo, a CEO advisory firm. Upon his retirement from Congress, he launched an anti-poverty foundation in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
“In Congress, I always thought it was important to do multiple things in your life,” Ryan said of his portfolio of enterprises.
Three years after he left Congress, Ryan said he does not miss the “performance politics” that are growing increasingly prominent. Instead of working to formulate and negotiate actual policy solutions, politicians today choose to “entertain” in the culture war in an attempt to get famous fast, he said.
“I agree with conservatives on the culture war, but I’m not a culture warrior. I don’t like inflaming [the] culture war because it just polarizes,” he said. “I do think you should take a stand against ridiculous, woke extremes, but I don’t think it’s great to try to politically profit off of these things, because all you end up doing is polarizing the country.”
There are still policymakers in Congress who care about making good policy, he said, but the culture war “entertainment artists” overshadow them. If he were in office right now, he said his number one priority would be fighting inflation.
Ryan said the economy is on the cusp of a recession. The federal government has been fueling inflation by spending, threatening businesses with higher taxes and raising taxes on businesses, he said.
“We have the exact wrong fiscal policy right now. This thing is not the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s sort of the opposite,” Ryan said of the package signed into law in August.
Although he said the Federal Reserve responded to the pandemic well, they were too late to respond to inflation, he added.
“They’re playing catch up. They were late. They should have been stopping the asset purchases earlier. Money supply was too high too fast for too long,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he does not know when the economy will start to significantly improve. The Federal Reserve will keep raising interest rates to about 4 or 4.25% and hold them there, he predicted. And with the war in Ukraine triggering an energy crisis in Europe and China experiencing economic struggles, Ryan expects a global recession to occur down the road.
While President Joe Biden currently mulls running for re-election in 2024, Ryan said Biden “missed the moment of being a centrist” during his term and has instead inflamed the polarization between the two parties. He explained that many Republican-leaning suburban voters voted for Biden because they disliked former President Donald Trump and expected Biden to govern from the center-left.
By catering to the progressive left, Biden passed on an opportunity to work across the aisle to put together deals, he said. As a result, populism has become more pronounced in U.S. politics, he added, and polarization is preventing major progress from occuring.
“Nothing is getting done that is substantial. No big problems are getting solved, and they just are trying to stick to their wish list of progressive things,” Ryan said, specifically referencing immigration and inflation.
The Republican party has also seen its “center of gravity” shift farther toward the extreme as well, he said.
“We have the same problem in our party, so I understand the pressure. I know very well,” he said. “But [Biden] succumbed to it.”
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