The 'Budget Wonk' Next Door: Meet Paul Ryan
Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his GOP running mate on Saturday gave voters a brief glimpse to the 42-year-old, seven-term public servant. Ryan's focus on the nation's fiscal issues have earned him the reputation as a "budget wonk," as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time crunching numbers in an effort to reduce the nation's deficit. Here are a few more things you might not know about him.
Ryan grew up in Janesville, Wis., where he currently resides with his wife Janna and their three children. The youngest of four children, his idealistic childhood suddenly changed in 1986, when he found his father dead of a heart attack. It was at this point he decided to help support the family by taking a part-time job at McDonald's.
"I stayed in the back because the manager didn't think I had the social skills to work the counter," recalled Ryan in previous comments about his first job. His brother Tobin told The New York times that it was about this time his younger sibling's political views began to take shape. "Some of his political views did begin to coalesce around the time of my father's passing."
His first foray into politics came when he was elected president of his high school and although a former fitness trainer and workout buff, his athletic career was short-lived, consisting of only a single year of high school soccer.
Ryan's political aspirations soon followed him to college at Miami University in Ohio, where he earned a B.A. in economics and political science. Both disciplines would prove invaluable to him.
Tobin Ryan said his younger brother's enthusiasm for economics was apparent from the start. "He was a PhD student in freshman clothes. I was an economics major myself; I don't think I was as enthusiastic," he said.
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While in college, Ryan even volunteered on the campaign of a young candidate by the name of John Boehner in 1992. Boehner is now the Speaker of the House and appointed Ryan to the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee.
Knowing that he wanted a life in politics, Ryan headed directly for Washington, D.C. where he worked as an aide to Sen. Bob Kasten of Wisconsin and later as a legislative director for Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. Yet the place than may have helped define his conservative ideas was when he worked as a speechwriter for former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp's Empower America. In fact, several of his former colleagues there said Ryan would be the most likely of the bunch to carry on Kemp's fiscal ideas.
Ryan returned to Wisconsin in 1996 as a 26-year-old to work as a marketing director for a family-owned construction business that was founded by his great-grandfather, but in fact, his real objective was to return to Washington – this time as a mMember of Congress, not just an employee of one. Not surprisingly, he campaigned on a platform of low taxes and the right to keep and bear arms. He won with 57 percent of the vote.
Already light-years ahead of his fellow classmates, Ryan began to secure his reputation as a budget wonk and reached out to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who he felt would appreciate his ideas of entitlement reform. His ability to advocate his conservative positions in a manner that is not as harsh as some of his Republican colleagues has become a trademark and is seen as one of his best skill sets. Ryan is currently the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
"He's the real deal," former Congressman Van Hilleary, who served two terms in Washington with Ryan, told The Christian Post. "He was appointed to the budget committee early in his career and was a 'workaholic' and really into the budget process. He's remarkable, intelligent and moved up fast on his merits."
Yet what has given Ryan the above average national name recognition he has achieved is what has become known as the "Ryan budget." It is also what Democrats, including President Obama, will use to attack the Romney-Ryan ticket because it calls for restructuring entitlement spending on Medicare and Social Security – two issues that may pose a threat to swing-state voters.
Ryan's selection also brought a sigh of relief to Republicans who are more concerned about fiscal issues, including many who subscribe to the tea party. "I was excited to see Ryan's name flashed across the headlines Saturday morning," said Hilleary. "I'm sensing some new excitement in the party and I think it will bring more people out to vote."
In addition to his political life, Ryan's personal life has grown too beginning with his marriage to the former Janna Little, a tax attorney with strong Oklahoma ties, within a couple years after getting elected to Congress. The couple and their children often attend Catholic Mass together in Janesville, where Ryan spends most of his weekends attending soccer games and occasionally hunting.