When Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan ran for vice president on Mitt Romney’s ticket in 2012, he was known as an Ayn Rand-inspired conservative policy wonk who advocated turning Medicare into a voucher program.
A year later, in December 2013, he was heralded as a compromiser for crafting a budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that averted another government shutdown.
If Ryan runs for speaker, as many colleagues have urged, he’ll have to negotiate the legacies of both of those reputations.
Ryan was elected to Congress in 1998, and since President Barack Obama has been in office, the Wisconsin Republican has supported him 17 percent of the time — slightly less often than the average House Republican, according to CQ’s Vote Watch.
It’s expected Ryan won’t settle for the speaker’s job unless he garners near-unanimous support. But past votes and positions he’s taken on key social and fiscal issues could rankle conservatives who still want to see change in their party’s leadership.
Here are four of those potential trouble spots from the nine-term member’s past.
Ryan diverged from fellow GOP lawmakers in voting to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation — which the 45-year-old chalked up to “a generational thing.” In 2007, Ryan was one of 35 members of his party who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“They didn’t roll out of bed one morning and choose to be gay. That’s who they are,” Ryan told the Fiscal Times in 2010, explaining his support for the measure.
In 2013, Ryan again sounded supportive of ENDA, while Speaker John A. Boehner opposed bringing such a vote to the floor. Boehner told CQ Roll Call through a spokesperson the measure would be a job killer.
Ryan’s spokesperson said in an email to CQ Roll Call at the time, “Congressman Ryan does not believe someone should be fired because of their sexual orientation. That said, any legislation to address this concern should be narrowly crafted to guard against unintended consequence.”
Back in 2008, when the subprime mortgage crisis threatened to derail the economy, Ryan split from his fellow fiscal conservatives in voting for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Much to the chagrin of fiscal hawks, TARP allowed the Treasury to buy mortgage assets from banks in attempt to rescue the financial sector. Ryan was one of just 91 House Republicans to support the measure.
“This bill offends my principles,” Ryan said on the floor when explaining his vote. “But I’m going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles, in order to preserve this free enterprise system.”
Also in 2008, Ryan voted to provide up to $14 billion in loans to domestic automakers. In a statement released after his vote, Ryan pointed to the “mounting hardships throughout Southern Wisconsin,” including the “imminent closure” of a General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville.
If conservatives want to tie Ryan to Boehner, they can use immigration to do it.
True to his wonkish roots and fiscal background, Ryan has taken a more pro-business approach to immigration than many of his party’s most conservative members would like.
“It doesn’t work for national security. It doesn’t work for economic security,” Ryan told Reuters in 2013 about the country’s existing immigration system.
His more moderate approach includes supporting a pathway to earned citizenship for America’s undocumented immigrants.
“At the end of the day, if everybody else in line who came here legally and did everything right is through the system and a person then, after an exhaustive period, after a probationary period, after a green card, not consuming any government benefits, wants to get in line like everybody else for citizenship, we should allow that person to do that,” Ryan said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in 2013. “That’s earning the right to become a citizen,” he added.
Ryan met privately with Democratic lawmakers to talk about an immigration overhaul, according to a 2014 Politico report. In 2013 , New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer specifically sought out Ryan, and the two met at least five times to discuss the two chambers’ approach to overhauling America’s immigration laws.
Days before the end of 2013, Ryan and Murray, leaders of their chambers’ respective budget committees, reached a deal that raised the limit on discretionary spending above sequester levels and kept the government open.
Two months earlier, congressional stalemate over the budget had shut down the government for 16 days.
Republicans were split 169-62 when the House passed the Ryan-Murray budget. Conservative members, as well as outside groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, opposed the deal for fear it wouldn’t cut enough from government spending.
At the time, Ryan counseled his party “not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” hailing the compromise as a step in the right direction.