Cardinal Timothy Dolan interviews Congressman Paul Ryan
Cardinal Dolan: One of the things that I admired about Congressman Ryan: He has made a promise to himself and his family that, except when there’s an extraordinary reason, he will always leave Washington on a Friday and go home and be with the family on the weekends. So admired here, are you still able to do that?
Paul Ryan: Oh yeah, we stick with that. I stick with that. I’ve turned down a lot things over the years which might have been good for the career, but not good for the family. It’s all about the balance. I’ve had so many people in their sixties and seventies tell me: ‘Gosh! I just wish I spent more time with my family.’ Well, I don’t want to be one of those people.
Cardinal Dolan: Bring us through the family again—you have three kids, right?
Paul Ryan: Three kids. Liza, she is eleven. Charlie is ten and Sam is nine. And they’re all students at Saint John Vianney Catholic Parish in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Cardinal Dolan: Is your buddy, the priest about whom you were so close to, is it Father Timmerman? Is he still there?
Paul Ryan: Yes, Father Randy Timmerman. No, Bishop Morlino pulled him up into Madison. He was one of those victims of his own success and so [Bishop Morlino] pulled him into a bigger parish and he’s also working with candidates for vocation.
Cardinal Dolan: To hear you speak, he’s the guy we wish we could cookie cut, huh?
Paul Ryan: He needs to get a purple hat one of these days. He is a fantastic guy. His homilies are just legendary and so he’s working with young men who are going into seminary and the Bishop has put him in a much more important position. It’s our loss but it’s the Church’s gain. And then we got Father Don Hire back, who we had had before and who we were big fans of as well, so we feel very well taken care of at Saint John Vianney.
Cardinal Dolan: A lot of people are fans of yours, Congressman Ryan, and I’m one of them. We watched with intense interest, you were the vice presidential candidate. Now you’re in a real position of delicate leadership, especially on financial issues. I can sincerely congratulate you because it looks as if, and you leadership was a big part of it, we have come to a budget agreement, huh?
Paul Ryan: That’s right. We were looking at possibly two government shutdowns this year. One would have been this week. Another one perhaps in October and we did not think that was in anyones interest. We have very strong disagreements with the Administration on a whole range of issues, but we just didn’t think it was in the nation’s interest to have these shutdowns. And so, Patty Murray and I went to work to come up with an agreement where no one had to violate a principle. We found common ground and we got this budget agreement which basically, for the next year and a half, agrees to the levels for discretionary spending, or government agency budgets. And so, tomorrow the House will consider a bill that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which is now until the end of September. And we already agreed on the level of spending for the next fiscal year, which basically puts in place something like a two year budget. You know the spending is much lower than what I was even fighting for in my budget two years ago. So we feel like we’ve made some progress, not near as far as we want to go, but we moved a step in the right direction and that to me is important. As you would say, you use prudential judgment, right? We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we did get a step in the right direction on the fiscal side of things. Now there are a whole other ranges of issues—health care and the rest—that we would like to address that, you know, we’re just going to have to get to later.
Cardinal Dolan: You bring up a good distinction because I’ve often heard you say—I said to Father Dave earlier, I said this is a guy while he doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, he doesn’t hide it. He’s a man of deep principles and sincere catholic faith, but we’ve all got to make some prudential decisions. How do you keep congressman—I mean it as a compliment when I say you’re a man of deep principle and conviction, but you’re not what we call an “ideologue”, now an ideologue sort of has a pejorative connotation, and the American people want their civic officials to make government work, so there is a pragmatic element. So I guess it’s a constant moral challenge for you to make government work, to get on with the business of government, while keeping principles and without becoming an ideologue. How do you do that?
Paul Ryan: To me the secret is to proclaim who you are, what you believe, and what you ultimately hope to achieve. Put it out there in as great of detail as you can – and that’s what our budgets do, that’s what I put out and write do - so I’m very honest with people about who I am, what I believe, what my principles are, what those principles in action look like. And then, in the art of governing, especially in this divided government we have, you have to exercise prudence, which is good judgment in the art governing. And what matters is mind your principles, have them in the front of your mind continuously on a day to day basis and make sure you don’t violate those principles or go backwards. And move the ball ever so slowly perhaps in the right direction, so long as it’s going in the right direction. You have to exercise good judgment. You have to find common ground, show people who you are and ultimately what you want to achieve, but you know you’ll ultimately have to make compromise in fulfillment of that, because that’s how our system is set up to be and that’s basically how I try to do it.
Cardinal Dolan: Do you remember, Paul, the first time we met? I was only in Milwaukee as Arch Bishop a couple months, and you were invited to be the commencement speaker at the Lutheran college, Carthage College.
Paul Ryan: Oh yeah, Carthage. That’s right.
Cardinal Dolan: And they were kind enough to ask me to come down and, I think, do a prayer. So I was on the stage with Congressman Ryan. And you gave, Paul, an 8 minute commencement address, which right away meant that I was a fan of yours—to give that short of an address. And you quoted Saint Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Paul II and I said: ‘This is a guy—this is like a philosopher.’ But you told me afterwards that you do read political philosophy and so I was really impressed by that. Do you keep that up? The reading? The studying?
Paul Ryan: Oh yeah, I do. I do. I just finished going through Nicomachean Ethics. I did that after the election, which was not the election outcome I wanted, so I kind of went back to the basics.
Cardinal Dolan: I thought you would be reading Elisabeth Kubler Ross.
Paul Ryan: That’s pretty funny. I do try to keep up with that and I thought in a religious setting like that a Lutheran college I decided: ‘Well, what can I, as a Catholic legislator, offer?’ and so I just wanted to say here’s our thinking—I think the speech was on relativism and that’s where you can invoke Aquinas so well, so beautifully I think, and that’s what I try to do in those settings. As you mentioned, I don’t wear it on my sleeve, but when invited to say a Georgetown, or Marquette, or a Carthage College which is religious, I enjoy talking about these principles. Talking about subsidiary in conjunction with and tethered to solidarity is something I would like to talk about quite a bit, but non-Catholics don’t know what the heck you’re talking about when you’re throwing these words out there.
Cardinal Dolan: Congressman Ryan, can you bring us up to date on a couple issues that are close to both of our hearts—and most of our audience of course would be faithful Catholics—can I ask you a couple them? Where would we be on the whole pro-life issue? I know you’re a realist and you had be blunt with me earlier to say that we’re not about to give up, we’re going to battle hard, but right now the stars don’t seem to be aligned for much progress in pro-life, sadly. Is that still your sentiment?
Paul Ryan: We have a multifaceted fight in front of us. Obamacare is the latest assault on life principles in my opinion. The other concern we have is this “nuclear option” that had deployed in the Senate means they can more easily pack the courts with judges that we don’t like and that is a big concern of mine. I think what they did in the Senate was, they know they can’t get their preferred legislation through the House because we’re in the majority. So they’re going to pack the Executive Branch with regulators and appointees that they like, doing things that we don’t agree with, and with judges. And so that is a real concern of mine. Conscience, is where I assume we’re going to go next on this, that’s another big fight that I’m very worried about. You and I have talked about this quite a bit over the last few weeks.
Cardinal Dolan: Have we ever. You folks need to know that Congressman Ryan has been a great ally on this and you’re not letting up on it, Paul. And I thank you for it. Tell us, any progress on immigration?
Paul Ryan: We were hoping to do this back in October, but the budget shutdown and the debt limit basically took our calendar and threw it out the window. Now, we’re trying to reconstitute our legislative agenda and that is part of that agenda is this year, in the first half of this year, to do immigration reform. The House is going to do this differently than the Senate. We, instead of passing one big, major, multi-thousand page bill that no one knows what they’re voting for and no one knows what Congress is doing, we’re going take a step by step approach, break it up in pieces. And taken together it will represent a very thoughtful approach, it will deal with legalizing the undocumented. It will deal with boarder security and interior enforcement, visa reform, guest worker program, basically modernizing these laws and what we want to do is do it in a way where we truly reassert the rule of law, respect for it, and we want to have reforms that are lasting in that we’re not finding out that we’re in the same problem ten years from now. The 1986 reforms didn’t work, then they did the 1996 reforms, and basically Congress has been trying to fix our immigration laws since 2006. We want to do it right this time so that we’re not in the same boat later on and the House is planning on moving on immigration reform. But like I said we’re going to do it in a way where we don’t end up with the Senate bill. We’re going to do it with the House’s principles and we’re going to be releasing our principles on how we’re going to do this very shortly.