The day that some of us have been waiting for since at least 2010 has finally arrived.
Speaker of the House and former House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is retiring at the end of his current term.
Speaker Paul Ryan will tell his House Republican colleagues Wednesday morning that he will not seek another term in Congress, ending what will be a three-year run as the Republican leader and creating a power vacuum in the Republican ranks heading into a difficult midterm election.
The news will set off a mad dash in the House Republican Conference. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are both eyeing the top spot. Though Scalise is almost certain to defer to McCarthy, all eyes will be on Trump. He has a close relationship with McCarthy, and his endorsement of the Californian could be crucial.
I've been thinking about Ryan's demise for so long it's hard to know where to begin, but we can start with his tenure as the Budget Committee Chairman.
Ryan first introduced his "Path to Prosperity" budget blueprint, which we've lovingly referred to as his "Path to Poverty," when he was the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in 2010 while Democrats still controlled it. That blueprint called for privatizing Medicare by converting it into a voucher or coupon system, it called for cutting Medicaid by a trillion dollars and converting the program into a block-grant system, and it called for other cuts to discretionary spending and a massive dose of tax cuts for the rich.
When Republicans first took control of the House of Representatives in 2011 on the back of the Tea Party, Ryan became the chairman of the Budget Committee and the rest is history. Republicans have been wed to his vision for the past seven years and they've never deviated from it.
Their adherence to Paul Ryan's vision is a major reason why Republicans don't have much to show for themselves after controlling at least part or all of Congress for nearly a decade. Paul Ryan's ideas have always been deeply unpopular with the public, but his ideas still formed the base of the GOP's annual budget resolutions that dictated what their appropriations bills would look like. This process led to appropriations bills that were also deeply unpopular and politically unacceptable. Republicans repeated this process until, eventually, they completely gave up on ever completing the appropriations process again. Republicans have not completed the process since Ryan became the Speaker.
We actually had an entire election in 2012 that served as a referendum on Ryan's budget, but congressional Republicans did not abandon it even then and you might say it became even worse from that point forward.
Ryan would later add provisions to his blueprint that called for asking the poor to sign contracts in exchange for access to social assistance programs; contracts that called on the poor to network with rich people, become sober, and seek counseling among many other insulting things.
The most you could say for Paul Ryan is that he was finally able to pass his tax cuts for the rich by a razor-thin margin once Republicans finally gained complete control of the government. But that's all they've done and it could be the last thing they do while they're still in the driver's seat.
Paul Ryan has always cast himself as a deficit warrior, and a significant portion of the political press has been more than happy to play along with him, but he will leave behind a trillion dollar deficit when he retires in January.
Ryan was first elected in 1998 when the policies of the Clinton administration generated a budget surplus, but in the following years Ryan voted for the policies of the Bush administration that obliterated the surplus and generated a budget deficit. Ryan voted for the Bush tax cuts. He voted for Medicare Part D. He voted for our wars. He voted for the bailouts made necessary by the 2008 financial crisis. Ryan has never voted against an increase in defense spending and, during his retirement announcement this morning, he boasted that he has directed hundreds of billions in more spending toward the Pentagon.
Ryan did not develop a fetish for deficit reduction until President Obama was elected and he abandoned it as soon as President Obama left office 8 years later.
It remains to be seen what kind of fiscal philosophy Republicans will adopt when Ryan is gone, but I don't expect it will be significantly different. Ryan's potential successors are the kind of men who thought Ryan was too soft, but they could still find themselves in the same position Ryan and former Speaker John Boehner were both in.
Ironically, Ryan's successor would benefit from losing control of the House because, in that case, he or she would not be asked to deliver the votes to keep the government running. Ryan's successor could safely sit on the sidelines and throw rhetorical bombs while they're relieved of actual responsibility.