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Paul Ryan discusses ‘Way Forward’ on economic opportunity, future of the GOP

October 1, 2014 at 6:15 PM EDT
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, says he won’t decide about a possible presidential run until 2015. Judy Woodruff sits down with Ryan to discuss both the personal matters -- the death of his father -- as well as the political ideas -- the image of the GOP -- that he addresses in his new book, “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: If you’re a politician, nothing says you’re thinking about running for president like writing a book. And that’s what brings us to former vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Yesterday, Judy Woodruff spoke with the Republican Budget Committee chairman about his new book, “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Paul Ryan, welcome.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), Wisconsin:  Good to be with you, Judy. Thanks for having me this evening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So we’re talking to you about your book. You make public here more of your personal story than I think we have ever heard from you, in particular about the death of your father when you were a teenager. Why did you decide to share that now?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Well, I think it’s important that you talk about the tragedies in your life, the things that have happened that form you.

I thought it was important to explain why I think the way I think, and, more importantly, how some tragedies can hit families and you can bounce back from them. Good things can come from these difficult circumstances and difficult challenges.

And it was a very formative part might have life. And that’s why I talked about these things, in an effort to try and explain why I think what I think and why I do what I do. And I also wanted to put forward a positive agenda of solutions to show how we can get things right in America, and how our own family needed the safety net, how our community was there for us when we needed it, my mom, and myself, and my grandma, and how important these programs in this kind of a society, a civil society, is to me and how personal it is to me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you do write — if there’s a personal side of the book, there’s very much a public and a political. You talk about the Republican Party, how it needs to open up.

But I guess one of the questions to you is, how hard is that to do, when many, certainly Democrats, some independents, see the Republican Party as a party that has at least in the past been perceived as against doing programs for the poor, against expanding Medicaid health benefits?

How do you see the challenge for the Republican Party?

REP. PAUL RYAN: I think we do have a challenge. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote this book.

I think we need to show not just what we’re against, but what we are for and how we are applying critically important principles to the problems of the day to offer better solutions. Here are better ideas for health care retirement security. Here are better ideas for economic growth. Here’s our agenda for getting — helping get people out of poverty, for real welfare reform, to move people from welfare to work, for economic growth, for a stronger foreign policy to make us more safe and more secure.

I think, just because we don’t like the current policies in place or the track we are on, we should not just simply be an opposition party. We need to be a proposition party, an alternative party:  Here is a better way forward for our country. Here are better solutions. And this shows you the kind of opportunity society we’re trying to create to reignite the engines of economic opportunity, to reconnect people with the America idea, which is this great idea that the condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life, and that we want to have a dynamic society where everybody is involved, where everybody can participate, in an economy of inclusion, so that everybody can reach their potential.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Someone who has looked at your book sent me these statistics just this week, Congressman. That is that corporate earnings — this is since the financial collapse in 2008 — corporate earnings have gone up at an analyzed rate of over 20 percent, while disposable income for the average person has gone up annually at only about 1.4 percent.

What would you do about that?


So, the wealthy are doing fine. The wealth effect, with the Federal Reserve and the stock market, they’re doing fine. But this kind of prosperity is not trickling down. So we’re basically seeing what you would call trickle-down economics now, I would argue. We have crony capitalism. We have top-heavy government.

We don’t have government that is responsive to people’s needs. And we don’t have the kind of organic economic growth you need to get people into the work force. And so I articulate a whole host of ideas, from tax reform, to job training reform, to better poverty-fighting solutions, to try and get people back into the economy, so they can get better take-home pay, better jobs, better opportunity, but, more importantly, get people back out of the doldrums that they’re in.

Look, Judy, our labor force participation rates, tens of millions of people who are either not working full-time or working part-time or not in school. When you have got almost 20 percent of 21-to-44-year-olds who are not in school or working at all, we have a problem in America today.


REP. PAUL RYAN: And what I would argue is, we need better, faster economic growth and we need the kind of economic growth that is bottom-up, that actually gets everybody on at least some rung of the economic ladder, so they can start climbing, so we can get the bridge to a better life, which is a better job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I do want to make time for at least one foreign policy question. And that is, you have said that President Obama was wrong not to negotiate a so-called status of forces agreement in Iraq to leave some U.S. troops there.


JUDY WOODRUFF: You have said that that might have helped prevent what has happened with the Islamic State recently.

So, my question is, are you saying U.S. troops should have stayed in Iraq and would still be there today…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … meaning 10, 11 years in Iraq?

REP. PAUL RYAN: I do think we should have had a status of forces agreement, where we would have had a footprint of soldiers there embedded with the Iraqis, helping enable the Iraqis, helping make sure that they can keep their military organized and coordinated and help the political coalition stay together.

And I would argue, because of our precipitous withdrawal, that hurt us and it helped us lose the gains we got. And I think we would have done a far better job, as the military asked at the time, and recommended at the time, we would have done a far better job of keeping the Iraqi military organized and together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have said you are thinking about whether to run for president. Mitt Romney, who chose you as his vice presidential running mate, has hinted that he is still thinking about it. You have said just in the last day or so that you wouldn’t run if he ran. Why not?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Because I think he’d make a great president. I supported him in the last election. I wish that he would have won. I wish that we would have won.

And I would defer to Mitt, because I think he’s the right time guy for the time. I don’t think he’s going to run. He’s been pretty clear about that. I, for myself, that’s a decision I’m not right now thinking about, because I think we have issues to deal with today. But this is something for 2015. I’m going to make a decision in 2015 about that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Paul Ryan, the book is “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea.”

We thank you.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Thank you, Judy.