By taking slightly longer than other Republicans to fully endorse Donald Trump, Paul Ryan has reaffirmed his status as the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being in the Republican Party. He has also underscored another fact about himself that everybody knows to be true: Paul Ryan’s No. 1 priority is reducing the budget deficit. Politico, reporting on Ryan’s meeting today with Trump, notes, “The speaker even brought charts and slides illustrating the nation’s budget woes to help Trump understand the problem he has spent 20 years trying to solve.”
In reality, Ryan’s record in public life supports a very different conclusion. Over the last two decades, he has supported all of the major deficit-increasing legislation: the Bush tax cuts, the Bush-era defense buildup, and Bush’s debt-financed Medicare drug benefit. During the Bush administration, Ryan distinguished himself from the president by demanding even larger tax cuts — and, during the fight over privatizing Social Security, advocated a plan that the administration rejected because it would have exploded deficits by too much. Likewise, Ryan has opposed all of the major deficit-reducing legislation during this period — ending portions of the Bush tax cuts, ending overpayments to private tuition lenders, and enacting the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act, especially its cost-containment measures. Ryan also voted against the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction framework, and torpedoed bipartisan efforts to negotiate a deficit-reduction compromise between the Obama administration and Congress.
It’s true that Ryan says he cares about reducing the deficit more than anything else. That is a better message for Ryan than saying he cares about reducing income transfers from rich to poor more than anything else. But claiming to care about reducing the deficit while mostly working to increase it is not the same thing as actually caring about reducing the deficit.