Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), usually so forceful and loquacious about budget details and policy pitches, is coy about 2016 right now.
Sure, the 2014 fall midterms still lie ahead and the GOP field remains muddled – so why should the House Budget Committee Chair stick his neck out? Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic contender, hasn’t articulated her plans either and the country remains riveted by growing crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine – and Ferguson, Missouri.
“I honestly don’t know the answer to the  question,” Ryan, 44, told The Fiscal Times in a phone interview Saturday afternoon. “That’s something we’ll look at in 2015. I’m focused on the here and now.”
The “here and now” for Ryan is pretty busy. He’s continued to push the ambitious anti-poverty plan he floated in late July, which focuses on block-granting federal support for anti-poverty programs to the states. He’s promoting a new book, The Way Forward, packed with conservative-driven fixes for the country and for the GOP. And while on book tour, he helped his former running mate, Mitt Romney, take the ice bucket fundraising challenge. Each man suggested the other should run in 2016.
The Fiscal Times engaged Ryan on a range of issues:
Maureen Mackey (MM): With no clear Republican frontrunner for 2016 at the moment, Mitt Romney’s name keeps coming up as someone people could rally around. Clearly there’s an easy bond between the two of you. Will he run again? Should he run again?
Paul Ryan (PR): I would love to see that. I’ve been clear about it. I think he would make a fantastic president. That’s one of the reasons I joined his  ticket in the first place.
MM: So if he runs again, would you work with him again?
PR: Absolutely. I would support him in whatever way he thinks I could be helpful.
MM: But there’s a huge rift in the Republican Party. How how would you repair it, given the right-wing Tea Party element pushing the party to the right and hampering the moderates in their appeal to the general electorate?
PR: That’s what I’m trying to do here. I’m trying to be a unifier of the party. I’m trying to make sure we stay a bold conservative party unified in its approach, inclusive and aspirational – because I’m a Jack Kemp Republican. I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican. We shouldn’t focus on dividing ourselves but on unifying. We can do it without watering down our principles. We can do it even better if we show how we apply our principles to people’s common problems and offer better solutions. We have to speak to every American.
MM: You’re also vehement about maintaining a strong defense. With the grave threat ISIS is posing right now, do you support a widening of airstrikes and bombing against them?
PR: I support creating a strategy designed not to contain, but to defeat ISIS, thoroughly employed. Without trying to play armchair general, we need to have a strategy to defeat ISIS, not simply to react to ISIS
MM: What about the costs and larger implications of getting involved in yet another military conflict and a possibly prolonged one?
PR: This is a very different conflict than past ones. Whenever you’re talking about national security and factoring in costs, you also have to put in that comparison the cost of not doing anything – the cost of future problems that might arise from inaction.
MM: Do you think congressional Republicans in general support a larger strategy to defeat and not just contain ISIS?
PR: I do, but we’ve been in recess since this really blew up. But before leaving, a lot of us received intelligence reports and are familiar with ISIS. We’ve been startled at the organization’s growth. A lot of us have been critical for a couple of years of the [Obama] administration’s policy toward Syria and Iraq, along with other foreign policy matters. We’ve long been concerned about this.
I think America has been losing its standing in the world because the president basically does not have a foreign policy – and he’s determined to weaken our defense posture with his budgets. That creates a vacuum that’s being filled by countries or people who don’t like us or don’t share our values.
ISIS is the most extreme version of that, and it’s the most real threat to us that needs to be dealt with accordingly.
MM: Would that require more money, then, for our defense and military?
PR: It certainly requires more than what the president has proposed, because the president is shrinking our defenses to a level most of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes. And I think that breeds weakness.
MM: You grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin, where you’re raising your own family. Given the great diversity of our vast country and its many challenges, why do you feel that you, with your background, would be the right person to lead the country on the big issues we face?
PR: I’m not suggesting I’m better than anyone else or I’ve got it all figured out. If anything, it gives you a sense of humility when you take on these big projects. But I believe that as an elected official and leader, if I don’t like the direction the country’s going, it’s not just about criticizing. You have to propose alternatives and that’s what I’m doing.
I do believe the country can get back on track. I do believe our country’s problems are very urgent and real, but that they’re surmountable. But you have to make a case. Leaders who think we should go a different direction need to spell out what that different direction looks like.
MM: Give us some specifics in terms of addressing upward mobility.
PR: We could do so much better as a nation. We can promote upward mobility and fight poverty far more effectively by respecting people who are creative, who have ideas, and who are on the scene. The federal government should mind the supply lines – there is an important role for government to play – but we have to allow local people and groups who are fighting poverty face to face to have flexibility. And accountability. And transparency.
When it comes to poverty, no two people are alike – there are different forms of poverty and of isolation – and you have to be able to customize policies to get better outcomes. Right now, the federal system frustrates that entire concept. In many ways, it inadvertently serves to produce disincentives to work – and ends up looking more like a poverty management system than a poverty reduction system. My goal is to turn our welfare programs into a bridge instead of a trap - it’s the smart thing economically and it’s the right course for a good-hearted country.
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