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Paul Ryan Delivers His Farewell Address To The House Of Representatives

Dec 20, 2018
Originally published on December 20, 2018 9:45 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. House Speaker Paul Ryan is getting ready to step aside from public life this week. Let's remember, Ryan became a national leader for the GOP as a budget reformer set on cutting entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. He launched his speakership on a promise to tackle deficits and rewrite the tax code.

He is leaving Washington celebrating wins on taxes but as his party is overseeing a ballooning deficit. Here's NPR's Kelsey Snell.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: In 2015, Paul Ryan was a self-proclaimed budget wonk who reluctantly replaced John Boehner, a speaker ousted by conservatives who worried he'd cut too many big spending deals with Democrats. Ryan took the job with a promise in a speech on the House floor that things would be different when he took over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PAUL RYAN: We're not solving problems. We're adding to them. And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean.

SNELL: Ryan wanted to usher in an era of unity and big policy ideas for the GOP. He wanted to cut the deficit and the Affordable Care Act, slash regulations and taxes, all while alleviating poverty and growing the economy. Three years later, nearly all of those goals fell short, and Ryan is returning to the plea he made in the first weeks on the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RYAN: Everyone does not need to agree on everything. And everyone doesn't need to disagree on everything either. All you need is enough people of good faith willing to take up an idea.

SNELL: Ryan spoke this week in the Grand Hall of the Library of Congress, as he did when he first became speaker in 2015. At the time, he said he needed a Republican president to make that all happen, but he wasn't counting on that precedent being Donald Trump. Ryan initially refused to endorse Trump. But once he became the party's nominee, Ryan told NBC's "Meet The Press" that he didn't have much of a choice but to get on board.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

RYAN: Imagine the speaker of the House not supporting the duly elected nominee of our party, therefore creating a chasm in our party to split us in half, which basically helps deny us the White House and strong majorities in Congress.

SNELL: Trump was a partner for Ryan in parts of his quest. They both wanted to cut taxes, grow the military and end the ACA, but they never saw eye to eye on the tactics for getting that job done. And when it came to cutting spending on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, Trump wouldn't engage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RYAN: I acknowledge plainly that my ambitions for entitlement reforms have outpaced the political reality, and I consider this our greatest unfinished business.

SNELL: Ryan's plan to balance the budget by scaling back taxes and entitlements never happened. Instead, federal revenues are down thanks to the tax cuts, and social safety net programs continue to grow. So does the deficit, which is on track to top $1 trillion next year. But Ryan says he's leaving with his ideals intact.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RYAN: I knew when I became speaker, I would become a polarizing figure. It just comes with the territory. But the one thing I leave most proud of is that I like to think I am the same person now that I was when I arrived.

SNELL: Still, many in his party have moved on. They lost 40 seats and control of the House in the midterm election. And many of those who remain are closer than ever to the ideas of Trump, not Ryan. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.