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Beyond The Budget, Where Does Paul Ryan Stand?


Paul Ryan has spent nearly 14 years in Congress, which means he has a long record of congressional votes behind him. By one statistical measure, those votes put him about on an ideological par with Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party favorite from Minnesota.

We're going to look at some of those votes now with David Drucker of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. And, David, lets start off with some social issues. First off, abortion, Paul Ryan gets a 100 percent vote rating from National Right to Life. He defines human life as starting at conception. Does he favor any exceptions to an outright ban on abortion?

DAVID DRUCKER: Well, he did vote in 2003 to ban late term or partial birth abortion. He did, in that legislation, support the exception for the life of the mother. And so, he's shown minor wiggle room but he is a practicing Roman Catholic. If you look at his social issues voting record, it has been staunchly pro-life, against same-sex marriage. And so, when it comes to social issues, he is a consistent conservative Republican vote.

I would note that it's not something that animates him. He didn't come to Congress to talk about these things and that might set them apart from some of his colleagues. He focuses on fiscal issues. But if you look at his voting record, there's no difference.

BLOCK: On guns, he gets an A-rating from the National Rifle Association. Votes there?

DRUCKER: You know, when he was selected as the vice presidential nominee, one of the first things one of my sources told me is he's going to get a lot of gun money. He's a hunter. He actually also is a bowman. I will say this, he has in his congressional career voted for background checks for people buying guns at gun shows, as long as there were 10 or more vendors exhibiting. So he's shown some flexibility, but basically he's about as pro-Second Amendment as you can get in Congress.

BLOCK: Let's talk about where Paul Ryan is on spending because there were a number of votes he took under President Bush. He voted for the bank bailout, the TARP, voted for the auto industry bailout, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the highway bill including the Bridge to Nowhere. All votes that would seem to put him at odds with the Tea Party and his own vision of very limited government.

DRUCKER: Yeah, and he voted for the auto bailout. And in his district, he had a lot of constituents who were employed on the factory floor of automobile manufacturers. He did support the prescription drug coverage added under the Bush administration. He supported TARP, which of course authorized up to $700 billion to help bailout Wall Street.

At the same time he was doing that, he was proposing his roadmap plans, which called for a massive scaling down and shrinking of government spending. He's in favor of simplifying the tax code. He's in favor of overhauling entitlement programs to bring them into balance cost wise.

And you see here, I think, the two different faces of Paul Ryan: one, the pragmatic politician who has constituents at home that expect certain things from government; at the same time, if you will, what really animates him and why he's in Congress, which is to try and remake how government operates.

BLOCK: Interesting, too, Paul Ryan joined with his fellow Republicans in voting against President Obama's stimulus package and has bashed that program repeatedly. But he didn't directly advocate for stimulus money for a number of energy projects back home in Wisconsin.

DRUCKER: Yeah, one of the reasons he has continued to win in a swing district, one that has regularly voted for Democrats on the statewide ticket - whether for president or senator - is because he knows how to take care of his constituents and attend to what interests them. That has allowed him the political room, if you will, to be one of the leading forces for a smaller government and conservative reform that maybe not all of the Democrats and swing voters in his district would necessarily embrace.

Unless you're in a perfectly ruby red or pearl blue district, you need to be a local lawmaker as well as a broader intellectual, if that's what you want to do.

BLOCK: David Drucker, associate politics editor at Roll Call, thank you for coming in.

DRUCKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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