Rep. Paul Ryan may not be running for president, but he has plenty of presidential-level ideas.
The 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee appears to be aiming for a long-coveted chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee rather than a run for the White House in 2016.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner last week, Ryan sounded off on 2016, talked about his priorities in Congress and discussed the surprising loss of outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary.
The following interview was edited for length and clarity.
Examiner: What’s your agenda for the Ways and Means Committee?
Ryan: I don't want to get into speculation about chairmanships because I just think it's not the proper time to do that. I can talk about what I think Congress needs to do. We still have to tackle this entitlements crisis. That's not going away. We have a temporary reduction in the deficit but it goes right back up, according to CBO, in a few short years, and it never comes back down. And that does mean we're going to consign the next generation to a lower living standard, combined with the debt crisis and a failing safety net. So, we have to take on these entitlements.
I don’t think Obamacare's — forget about the courts, forget about Congress — I don’t think Obamacare's going to survive anyway, because I think the law is so fundamentally unsound, that I think it’s going to collapse under its own weight in time, if anything. And so I do think we need to get ahead of that and propose a full repeal and replace — no, fully repeal and replace the law, ultimately. Is that going to be when the guy named Obama’s in office? No. But I think we need to get prepared for how to deal with health care reform …
And then I think we need to get our economy growing and hitting its potential ... And, I think tax reform's one of the critical components of a real pro-growth economy.
Examiner: What do you think of House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp's, R-Mich., tax reform plan?
Ryan: I think it was a heroic effort. I think Dave deserves a lot of kudos for putting it together — for bringing the committee through a very educational process, and I’m pleased that he got this conversation started. And we need keep this conversation going until we finally get tax reform. When that’s going to occur, I just don’t know the answer to that.
Examiner: What are the top three items any needed tax reform plan should include?
Ryan: Low rates, international competitiveness and simplicity.
Ryan: I’m just not a huge fan of hypotheticals … Do we need to reform our tax code? Yeah, of course, we do. There’s even more sense of urgency with our international problems like inversions. When can we do that? I think that partly depends on whose running government and what their attitude at the time is, so I think it’s different if we have the Senate versus not, but I’m just not sure of where President Obama’s going to come down on the issue of lowering taxes across the board.
Examiner: What should health care reform look like?
Ryan: It should be patient-centered, not government-run. That's the basic core of it all ... It should be a patient-centered system designed around the whole notion that the patient is the nucleus of the system, where all of the providers of health care services, be they insurers, nursing homes, doctors, hospitals, compete against each other for our business as consumers. And so we bring the basic fundamentals in a market economy to work in the health care sector, where they really haven't been applied. And I think that is the core at getting at health inflation, accessibility and affordability, which is not only a family problem, because people are working paycheck to paycheck -- it's taking more of their disposable income away -- but it's also the core of our budget crisis.
Examiner: Is it enough for Republicans to say they’re going to repeal Obamacare, or do you need to communicate to voters that you’re going to fix health care broadly?
Ryan: Yes, I do believe it’s our obligation to articulate what we would replace Obamacare with and what the health care system would look like under our reforms and I really believe that more than ever before, the country is open to new possibilities and new ideas, and so, we should offer them.
Examiner: Did you give a second thought to running for House leadership after Cantor lost?
Ryan: Not really. My knee-jerk was immediate because I made my mind up on that a while ago.
Examiner: What about giving it a second thought – for God and country?
Ryan: There’s a lot you can do here without being in elected leadership, and I think I do a lot of that. And, my weekends are with my family. And, I love House Republicans but not as much as I love my family. I’m not going to spend — I’m just not going to do all that travel, and I know myself well. I prefer to spend my days working on policy.
Examiner: You had to learn something from the VP experience.
Ryan: A lot.
Examiner: Talk about what you learned about yourself, about the country about what it takes for Republicans to win the White House?
Ryan: It was a phenomenal growth experience for me and I learned lessons that I'll never forget. And my family went through it together -- which was really actually a joy, in that way, because I got to see a lot of this through my kids' eyes, through my wife's eyes, about, just, the country, about peoples' passion for it. And, it gave me a new sense of actual optimism about the way people feel about their country and what they want it to be. I won't Monday morning quarterback how the election went and all that stuff, but I guess there are a lot of takeaways I learned about it, which is, how the tempo of a campaign works, how the political slings and arrows come at you and how they work and how absolutely essential it is to give a vision with policies and where you're try to take the country to people in ways that everybody can understand. And we have to broaden our base and expand our appeal and communicate our ideas and our principles to everyone in order to build the majority in this country that elects a government to put our country back on the right track.
Examiner: Is there something in particular that’s been holding the party back?
Ryan: That could take two hours.
Examiner: Did being the VP nominee change how you view the long arc of your career?
Ryan: I’m one of those people who doesn’t have it really all figured out. I’ve never been a person who has a straight line career mapped out in my mind, it’s just not how I think, and it’s just not how I like living my life. I like sort of living to the decision, I like being in the moment and planning for the future in a way that allows different opportunities to come my way instead of having some narrow prescribed vision of what I have to do with my life and career. I never planned to run for Congress in the first place, it wasn’t what I thought I was going to do with my life. So, I’ve just never thought like that. I’m just not one of these people who thinks, it’s this move, then that move, then this move, then that move. I just don’t think like that.
Examiner: Does that mean the 2016 decision hasn’t been made?
Ryan: Oh yeah, that’s in 2015. So I’m just pushing off, focusing on the moment, and [my wife] and I will have the kind of conversations and discussions you need to have at the appropriate time, which is not until 2015.
Examiner: Let's conclude with a little policy. As a matter of policy, but also politics, do Republicans and conservatives need to tackle immigration reform?
Ryan: I do. I think we need to offer solutions and show what a secure border and a system governed by the rule of law looks like and what a workable legal immigration system that's good for our economy and good for our national security looks like. I do believe we should offer that for the very simple fact that we have an absolutely broken immigration system now, we're in public office to solve problems, this is a problem, so we ought to offer a solution.
Examiner: Do you have an opinion, as a matter of policy on how the 11 million illegal immigrants should be handled?
Ryan: I think massive deportations are unworkable and unrealistic, but so is amnesty. So you've got find a way that involves people getting right with the law and coming out of the shadows while rewarding the legal immigrant who did everything right in the first place and not rewarding a person for cutting in line.