NY Times' Paul Ryan Mythology Skips Past His Deficit Origins

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The New York Times whitewashed Paul Ryan's role in creating massive deficits during the Bush administration, portraying the Republican vice presidential pick as a fiscal policy wonk and "Tea Party hero" who has developed an alternative to President Obama's "spending and deficit increases." 

In an August 18 profile, the Times traced the history of Ryan's relationship to presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

The tall tale begins at a meeting in 2007 between Romney and Ryan, after Romney's tenure as Massachusetts governor came to a close, and as he was "beginning to immerse himself in federal budget policy." The Times described the two at the time as "a pair of policy mavens out-geeking each other over esoterica like border-adjustable taxes," and explained the significance of that continued conversation: 

It was the start of a on-again, off-again five-year courtship that encapsulated their party's gradual adoption of a more conservative stance on fiscal issues, a shift punctuated a week ago by Mr. Romney's selection of Mr. Ryan as his running mate. 

The story told here is one of Paul Ryan as the "Tea Party hero who gave the conservative movement a detailed policy alternative to employ against President Obama's spending and deficit increases." Ryan is portrayed by the Times as "a touchstone for Mr. Romney as he tried to ensure that his policies were in sync with the spiritual heart of the party." This, the Times argues, is illustrative of "how the Republican Party moved in Mr. Ryan's direction." 

By ignoring Ryan's record prior to 2007, the Times didn't have to account for Ryan's support for the Bush tax cuts, Medicare prescription drug benefits, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- none of which were paid for. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that those policies will account for 50 percent of the nation's debt by 2019. 


The Center for American Progress recently analyzed Ryan's voting record and estimated that he has voted to add $6.8 trillion to the nation's debt. 

These votes tell a different story than the mythology spun by the Times. In an August New Yorker profile, Ryan Lizza explained Ryan's complicated history on debt and deficits: 

Ryan won his seat in 1998, at the age of twenty-eight. Like many young conservatives, he is embarrassed by the Bush years. At the time, as a junior member with little clout, Ryan was a reliable Republican vote for policies that were key in causing enormous federal budget deficits: sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, the multibillion-dollar bank-bailout legislation known as TARP. In all, five trillion dollars was added to the national debt. In 2006 and 2008, many of Ryan's older Republican colleagues were thrown out of office as a result of lobbying scandals and overspending. Ryan told me recently that, as a fiscal conservative, he was "miserable during the last majority" and is determined "to do everything I can to make sure I don't feel that misery again." 

The Times' misportrayal of Ryan as a fiscal policy wonk is particularly problematic coming on the heels of his comments earlier this week acknowledging that he couldn't say when he and Romney would bring the budget into balance.

It's inexcusable for the Times to ignore that chapter in Ryan's history in the context of portraying him as one of the fiscal "policy mavens" of Washington, D.C. 

Posted In
Economy, Elections
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