By: AIF Staff
Last week, AIF President and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan visited Utah Valley University in Orem, UT to serve as a guest lecturer at an event held by the Governor Gary Herbert Institute for Public Policy. While on campus, Ryan spoke with UVU students and the wider university community about the short-term and long-term challenges facing America.
As part of his visit, Ryan spoke with Boyd Matheson for an interview that aired on Sunday Edition. During the wide-ranging discussion, Speaker Ryan talked about his message to UVU students, the need for comprehensive immigration reform starting with border security, and the state of Congress after a tumultuous week in Washington. The full interview is accessible at below and some excerpts follow.
“I teach economics at the University of Notre Dame but I also go around the country speaking with young people. It’s a good use of my time, frankly. I want to talk to young people about the future of their country and the need to get involved and solve the problems that we have. But it also gives me sustenance. It gives me hope, because you meet with these really wonderful, young people who are doing incredible things and it gives me hope and confidence for the future. It does me a lot of good too.
There are problems that seem intractable in this country and they want to know is there a way out of this problem. I hear more and more about our mounting federal debt that they are going to inherit. This $33 trillion debt that is coming from me and my generation. [They say:] “We have to pay off your debt from my generation before we can start having our government and our programs.” I think there’s an awakening to this problem, a desire to address it, and a lot of questions about that.
What I’m encouraged most about is young people are looking at the hyperpolarization that is engulfing our country lately and engulfing democracy and I think it’s the fact that we’re a more digital society. The digitization has pulled us apart in many different ways and the fact that young people are waking up to this and saying: “This doesn’t look right. I don’t like this. What can we do about this? This is a problem I’m sensing.” Just the fact that young people are concerned about the polarization in our country, asking what they can do about it, that is encouraging to me.”
Ryan on the motion to vacate the Speaker of the House:
“It was a total disgrace. I think it was an absolute disgrace that they kicked the Speaker of the House out for doing his job. They, being 4% of the Republican Conference, said to the other 96% that we’re going to bring Congress to a screeching halt and we’re going to kick the Speaker out for simply doing his job. And they were led by one disgraced, unethical, unprincipled demagogue and the fact that 7 people would follow him to do that is very disturbing. I know there are a lot of raw emotions in Congress. You cannot function without a Speaker of the House.
First and foremost, I think the Republican Conference needs to fix this rule because what happens with these entertainers in Congress is today’s extreme tactic is tomorrow’s normal behavior. It’s a one-way ratchet. So, you have to fix this motion to vacate if any future Speaker is to be in any way successful, because the job of Speaker, you say no more than you say yes to Members. Members are asking you for things constantly, every day, and you can’t say yes to all of these demands….
I said this to the students: If people aren’t mad at you as Speaker of the House – if 10 people aren’t mad at you at any given day – you’re not doing your job. So, if you have these carnival barkers in Congress who are going to bring it to a screeching halt because they didn’t get their way, that’s not the way our Founders set the legislature up to work so they have to fix that for any future Speaker to be successful.”
House Democrats’ role in the Motion to Vacate vote:
“I think they decided to take a political advantage over protecting the institution. I think they made the wrong decision. I think they thought: Let’s take the best player that Republicans have off the playing field. Kevin McCarthy is the best at recruiting; he’s the best at raising funds for the majority; he’s a very effective Speaker; and he helped build the majority. So I think they thought, let’s take him off the playing field because they’re not going to replace him with someone who is as good and we’re going to get a political advantage over their chaos that will make us look better by comparison. I think they chose a political advantage over institutional protection.”
Ryan on the appetite among legislators to address our national debt:
“We know what to do to solve this debt crisis. I passed four budgets in the House that balanced the budget and paid off the debt. This book that we wrote at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank I work at, is the latest version of showing how we do it. There are other ways to solve this but the point being is we can solve this debt crisis, we can get our debt under control – it will take us time – but we have fundamentally, unserious politics.
But to answer your question: Are there people in Congress today who know how to solve this problem and are willing to solve this problem? Yes, but there aren’t enough of them. That’s part of the problem. And it takes leadership.
Right now, we do not have presidential leadership, frankly, from either front-runner for the nominations that are willing to take on this challenge. They would rather play demagogic, populist politics on the debt crisis than actually leaning in, telling people hard truths, and solving the problem. The problem with our debt crisis is the longer you delay solving it, the uglier that your options and your solutions become. So that’s why it’s so much in our interest to get ahead of this problem, solve it on our own terms as a country, and solve it in a bipartisan way rather than kick the can down the road and then do emergency surgery in a debt crisis when the bond markets have turned on us.”
Saving our safety net will help our most vulnerable:
“Republicans and Democrats agree that we want a safety net. We want these programs. We, in society, think this is a good thing. The problem is these programs were written in 20th century in ways that are proving unsustainable in the 21st century. They go back to like the 1960’s and the 1930’s so we know so much more now about how better to run these programs, to fulfill these missions, than we did then. So applying these new ideas, technologies, and techniques to running these programs and changing them is how you solve the debt crisis, and we can do it in a way that doesn’t affect the benefits for people in and near retirement — that’s the good news in this story, if we act soon….
On the need for civility in public discourse:
“I think we need to put a premium on civility and we need to start talking about civility and what it takes to have a civil society. So, I think we need to bring to the front of our dialogue and the front of our minds: Civility, because this digital culture we live in is very uncivil and that is what is ripping us apart. If we can keep our society bounded, if we can keep each other, from different walks of life, in this common society, in a civil society, there is no stopping this country.”
For more information on Speaker Ryan’s efforts to strengthen our social safety, check out American Renewal.