Paul Ryan Passes on Presidency to Focus on Reforming Government Now Print
By Ashton Ellis
Wednesday, January 14 2015
Lots of politicians succumb to the temptation that winning higher office is more important than notching real achievements at the level they're at. That's why so many avoid the responsibility of actually legislating.

On Monday, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he would not run for president in 2016. Instead he will focus on enacting policies to spur economic growth as the new head of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

“After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided not to run for president,” Ryan said in a statement. “Our work at the House Ways and Means committee over the next few years will be crucial to moving America forward, and my job as Chairman deserves undivided attention.” 

“It’s clear our country needs a change in direction,” the statement continued. “And our party has a responsibility to offer a real alternative. So I’m going to do what I can to lay out conservative solutions and to help our nominee lead us to victory.” 

Unquestionably, Ryan’s intention to stay in Congress frees up GOP donors and activists to chase one of the many other candidates vying for funds and attention. 

But horse race punditry aside, don’t interpret the Wisconsin Republican’s decision as taking the next two years off. While he may not be submitting himself to 18-hour days jet-setting across the country, shaking hands and kissing babies, Ryan will arguably attempt to do something even more difficult – shepherding several major policy reforms through the tax code. 

Assuming the Republicans retain control of Congress, Ryan has up to six years as Ways and Means chairman to write the legislation that implements free market reforms. 

First on the list is approving fast-track authority to negotiate international free trade agreements. Ryan is part of a bipartisan group trying to give American trade negotiators the help they need to complete two major compacts: the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Together, these trade agreements are estimated to generate more than 1 million U.S. jobs and increase economic growth by $200 billion. 

Ryan’s other priorities will likely be less bipartisan, but no less vital. 

When Ryan became the House Budget Committee Chairman in 2011, his name ID quickly spiked thanks to a series of thoughtful and far-ranging budget proposals. Dubbed “The Path to Prosperity,” Ryan’s budget reforms became the clearest and most coherent domestic policy statement by Republicans in the Obama era. 

That’s because Ryan called for big changes to domestic spending programs. Instead of open-ended commitments to budget items like Medicare and Medicaid, Ryan proposed to cap their amounts while increasing flexibility. Seniors would be able to use their Medicare dollars to purchase health insurance from a variety of private options, while the States would get Medicaid in a block grant with the freedom to spend it in ways that deliver the best results for their unique local constituencies. 

There were other ideas too – like repealing ObamaCare and revamping the structure of welfare programs to help lift people out of poverty. 

As Budget chairman, Ryan persuaded the GOP-run House of Representatives to pass his proposals, only to have them die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Now, with Republicans running both chambers, Ryan’s ideas have a much better chance of landing on President Barack Obama’s desk – further solidifying Ryan’s reform program as the de facto Republican position on domestic policy issues. 

There’s more. Unlike the Budget Committee whose bills are only proposals that other committees are supposed to consider, the bills produced by the Ways and Means Committee don’t need an extra round of legislating to become law. The members on Ways and Means literally write the tax code that serves as the lifeblood for almost every federal agency and initiative. If a policy wonk wants a position that determines the shape of the federal government, look no further than the Ways and Means chairmanship. 

Lots of politicians succumb to the temptation that winning higher office is more important than notching real achievements at the level they’re at. That’s why so many avoid the responsibility of actually legislating. 

Paul Ryan can do a lot of good for millions of Americans as a principled chairman of Ways and Means. Kudos to him for being satisfied with that.