WASHINGTON, DC — On Friday, Wisconsin’s First District Congressman and speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, spoke with Kenosha News’s Joe Potente.
Excerpts of Ryan’s remarks follow:
Q. How are you balancing your time between D.C. and your district these days?
A. I’ve kept my same routines, actually. That’s been pretty good. I’ve been very pleased with it.
Now with this budget agreement, I’m probably going to stay longer. But I come home at the end of the week’s session. I spend a day in the district doing district work, and then Saturdays and Sundays at home. Typically, I do some constituent events along with my kids’ sporting events on Saturdays, and then Sundays are family days.
So last Saturday, for instance, I went to Elkhorn to meet the kids that we’re going to nominate to the military academies. I did that on Saturday, then went to one of my kids’ ball games. Then Sunday, I went to the Rock County Historical Society holiday fundraiser, which is something we do in Janesville, and had a family dinner.
So, basically I’m finding that I have a similar routine, which I’ve been really vigilant at keeping, which is to keep constituents and family as part of my weekly routine like I always have, and I’ve been able to maintain that.
The other thing is that technology helps. I can do a lot on a phone and a computer. So I do a lot of conference calls, a lot of texting and emailing — you don’t have to be physically present to do a lot of work. I do spend a lot of my weekends on the phone.
Q. You’ve been in the speaker’s job now for about a month and a half. How does it compare with what you thought it was going to be?
A. I’ve been in Congress for a while; this is my 17th year. So I’ve always observed the job; I’ve always felt like I had a pretty good sense of what it is. But you never know these things until you actually do them yourself.
So, it is different in a number of ways. I find myself doing more macro then micro policy, and I’ve always really enjoyed the nuts and bolts of policy, and I find I do more macro than micro. I think I knew that, but now I’m experiencing it. I will find a way that I can get back involved in policy formulation, but for now I haven’t had that chance.
There are a lot more ceremonial duties than I expected. They’re pleasant — you know, I meet with heads of state when they come into town. I do a lot of ceremonial things. I met with the president of Israel yesterday.
Q. You don’t seem rattled by these budget deadlines. How are you keeping your cool about this?
A. I’ve been around the block. My experience as Budget chair and Ways and Means chair gives me a pretty good perspective on these things. So, no, I am not rattled by these things. I’ve seen this situation before.
By the way, I don’t want it to keep going like this. My goal as speaker is to return to what we call regular order, where we don’t have these brinksmanship deadlines. My goal is try and de-escalate the situation, so that Congress works more smoothly, and more democratically.
Q. What do you feel are your greatest accomplishments since becoming speaker?
A. I basically feel like I have helped turn the battleship back to regular order, meaning it takes awhile to change the culture of any big institution like Congress. But in 10 days — today being the 10th — we will have passed three conference reports. In all of the last Congress, in 2014 and 2013, we passed three in the entire two-year period.
And what a conference report is, is in the regular system of how a bill becomes a law, you pass a bill through the House and then you pass a bill through the Senate, and then you go to a conference committee consisting of House members and senators where you iron out the differences, get a reconciled bill and then pass it through both houses and onto the president.
That’s the system the founders envisioned. That’s regular order. That is small “d” democratizing Congress so that everybody can participate in the process, and we only did that three times in 2013 and 2014. We have now done that three times on big issues in the last 10 days. That I think is my biggest accomplishment.
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