In a farewell address Wednesday, departing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the passing of last year’s tax reform bill his signature achievement while acknowledging his goal of reining in the federal debt fell short.
The speech, delivered to more than 100 people at the Library of Congress, caps his two-decade career as a public servant.
The advocate for small government conservatism won election to the House of Representatives in 1998 at age 28. He later chaired the House Budget Committee and in 2012 became GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate. In 2015, he became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee but was soon elevated to House speaker after his predecessor, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, resigned. In April, Ryan announced he would not seek reelection.
In the half-hour address, Ryan said that big issues like immigration, poverty, and the debt will remain perplexing problems future lawmakers must tackle. The federal deficit continued to spike under a Republican-controlled Congress, growing from $438 billion in 2015 to $779 billion in 2018. “Certainly one Congress cannot solve all that ails us,” he said.
He expressed strong regret for not reducing entitlement programs, calling it Congress’ “greatest unfinished business.”
Ryan celebrated the most recent Congress as “the most productive we’ve had in a generation,” noting lawmakers passed 1,175 bills, though some stalled in the Senate. He also celebrated presiding over the biggest tax cut in decades and boosting military spending.
The outgoing House speaker also spent a few minutes criticizing the rancorous state of politics, saying that “shopworn denunciations,” outrage, and disagreement have led to “intense distrust.”
But ultimately he described himself as an optimist: “I leave here convinced we face no challenge that cannot be solved by putting pen to paper on good sound policy.”
Ryan leaves the House in the hands of a Democratic majority after his party lost what will likely be a net of 40 seats after the midterm elections. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is set to succeed him as the top leader of the reduced band of Republicans.
The 48-year-old Ryan has not signaled what he will do next, other than spend time with his family. He said earlier this year the only government job he would want someday is to serve as U.S. ambassador to Ireland. —H.P.