By: AIF Staff
This week, as part of a conversation hosted by the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, AIF President and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and former Obama Administration Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough discussed the stakes of the 2020 elections, the importance of promoting evidence-based policymaking, and tackling tough policy issues in a polarized environment.
During the dialogue, Speaker Ryan talked about how the American Idea Foundation is collaborating with the University of Notre Dame’s Lab of Economic Opportunity to identify solutions that expand economic opportunities and that successfully address issues like poverty, addiction, and recidivism.
Excerpts of Speaker Ryan’s responses, which have been edited for clarity, follow and the full discussion is accessible here
Reaching consensus in a polarized time:
“When Dennis and I worked together in our last few leadership positions, we did a lot of things together and put together plenty of deals. We had to accept things from the other side that we didn’t want, but we did it to get things done. In my last term as Speaker of the House, which was 2017 and 2018, we passed over 1,323 bills out of the House of Representatives. It was about double what the House usually produces and more than half those bills made it into law so, give or take, 600 bills went into law and 80% of those bills were bipartisan.
“So, even in 2017 and 2018, 80% of the laws we wrote were bipartisan bills. When Dennis was there in 2015 and 2016, we had to have bipartisan bills because we had divided government and we got a lot of things done. We did the Cures Act in the lame duck; we worked on opioids; we did so many different things even in these partisan, polarized times….
“The system and the institutions still do work and bipartisan things still get done. It would be much nicer and much better for everybody in the country for sure if we could try to depolarize the environment and just get the better of our angels coming more closely together, but I just want to say, even in these hyperpolarized times, the system works and bipartisanship still does occur.”
Expanding the use of data and evidence by the Federal Government:
“I actually got the idea for this [Evidence Based Policymaking] Commission years ago from Jim Sullivan at LEO. To back up for a moment, I got a little tired of the fact that we were trying to solve some problems in the poverty space and we kept having just these ideological battles and fights. We would get into stalemates, so nothing would get done because the Left and the Right would just fight each other to a draw, because we basically used ideological arguments to try and prosecute our point. As a result, we could not reach consensus.
“So, I tried to take a step back and I witnessed that only 1% of the programs that the federal government had were designed using data and evidence. And so, I spoke with an economist named Raj Chetty at Harvard who walked me through this amazing study that he did on upward mobility using data from the Internal Revenue Service. He produced a really path-breaking study in my opinion. I went to Notre Dame and I spoke with Jim Sullivan and Bill Evans and some others saying: Why don’t we have more studies like this? What they basically walked me through was because nobody can get this data. This was when I decided there ought to be a commission to potentially release all this government data in a privacy-compliant way so that researchers can measure the effectiveness of our public policies. So, I called my friend Patty Murray who I had done a budget agreement with a year or two earlier.
“I called Patty and I said: Look, here’s what I want to do. I want to do a commission and release all of this data and we should just agree that you’re a progressive and I’m a conservative but this is nothing but good because we can actually find out if these policies are succeeding or not. Then we can basically affect policymaking without the ideology and take the partisanship out of it and just go where the data tells us to go. So, she agreed and we did a commission.
“The commission met and it gave us these findings and [recommendations on] how to release this data. We took those findings, put it in legislation, and passed into law. It just became law last year and it has now helped create what I would call a new scope of social, political science and evidence-based policymaking. Our theory and hope here is — and Notre Dame and LEO in particular, is really the leader in this — we can now move toward evidence-based policymaking, data and analytics, random clinical trials to see what works and what doesn’t. Then we can go with what works in and leave what doesn’t work and I really believe it’s going to help bridge ideological and partisan gaps and bring solutions.
“I’d like to think this is a new version of political science that will help get us toward consensus and so, that was our entire motivation in the first place. It’s just taking root. Lots of universities are doing it, so I’m very optimistic and it’s what my Foundation, the American Idea Foundation, is basically dedicated to doing.”
The next Administration should prioritize economic growth and focus on the future:
“You have to have economic growth. There is no two ways about it. You have to start with strong economic growth, then you’re going to need to have education reform and a focus on upward mobility. I think there are a lot of good things that we’ve done lately on issues like criminal justice reform and there’s more work to do there. So, economic growth, education reform, and then, in the poverty space, I’m a big believer in what they call sort of navigation, wrap-around benefits. There is a particular strategy and Catholic Charities really does a good job on this of getting people up and out of poverty and attacking poverty at its root causes. There’s a lot of evidence on how best to do that.”