Hey, Paul Ryan, What's Up? Budget Deficits
Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East|1 January, 2019

The professed fiscal hawk leaves behind a legacy of unsustainable shortfalls.

Anna Edgerton

When Paul Ryan became speaker of the House in 2015, the federal budget deficit was $438 billion. He blamed the “failed policies of President Obama” for budget deficits that had exploded to $1.4 trillion in 2009, the year after the Great Recession, though shortfalls began shrinking in the following years and were continuing to fall as Ryan took the gavel.

Today, with Ryan preparing to retire from Congress, the annual federal budget deficit is again approaching $1 trillion. Over his two decades in Congress, the total national debt increased from less than $6 trillion to almost $22 trillion. The years of his speakership saw no new foreign conflict or recession that forced the government to live beyond its means. The problem was a Republican led Congress that pushed a small-government agenda only in part. When President Trump took office, he embraced tax cuts but rejected structural spending overhauls. But even he complained about the spending bill Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought him last year, which met Democrats’ demands for more domestic spending to keep up with the $716 billion Republicans pledged for defense in 2019 without imposing discipline in other areas to compensate.

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