Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Conservative Political Action Conference
National Harbor, MD
March 6, 2014
Thanks, Guy. You know, when Al asked me to speak this year, he said, “Paul, I like to save the best for last . . . so you’re up first thing Thursday morning.” Well, all I can say is it’s great to be back. Thanks again, everybody.
So, 2012 didn’t go as planned. And last year, it was pretty tough to be optimistic after a loss like that. But now—a year later—I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. I think the Left is exhausted. Our side is energized. And on Election Day, we’re going to win.
Take the President. He released his budget this week. And from the looks of it, I’d say he’s doubling down—he’s going even further to the left. His teammates aren’t much better. You notice they all sound alike? All they talk about these days is income inequality. They say it shows party unity. But what it really shows is they’re out of ideas.
The reason they keep talking about income inequality is because they can’t talk about economic growth. They have spent five, long years in power, and all they have to show for it is this lousy website.
The President was remarkably candid when he said he was going to fundamentally transform the country. He’s done his best to keep that pledge. In the end, I think he’s going to fail. You see, now that the President is implementing his agenda, it is a total fiasco. Big government sounds good in theory—but it looks a lot different in practice. And we’re learning this the hard way.
But this is our opportunity. For the President and his allies, this year’s campaign won’t be a sprint or a marathon—it will be a 50-yard dash. They’re going to run from their record. They’re going to point fingers. And they’re going to try and make us the villain in their morality play.
Well, I don’t think that’s going to work—because they’re going to overreach. Take just one example: the Little Sisters of the Poor. The administration is trying to force a group of nuns to violate their conscience. The Left isn’t trying to solve a problem here. They’re trying to make a point: They’re in a charge. And if you don’t like it, deal with it.
Look, I’ve been in politics long enough to know that if you throw your weight around like this, you’ll get thrown out of office. That’s just not how a majority party acts. A majority party welcomes debate. It brings people in. It doesn’t burn heretics. It wins converts. And it knows people don’t want to be pandered to; they want to be convinced. They want to be treated like adults. They want to be inspired.
That’s why I’m excited about our team. The way the Left tells it, the Republican Party is in a civil war. It’s Tea Party versus establishment—libertarians versus social conservatives. There’s infighting, conflict, backbiting, discord. Look, I’m Irish—that’s my idea of a family reunion. I don’t see this great divide in our party. What I see is a vibrant debate. We’re figuring out the best way to apply our principles to the challenges of the day. Sure, we have our disagreements. And yes, they can get a little passionate. I like to think of it as “creative tension.”
For the most part, these disagreements have not been over principles—or even policies. They’ve been over tactics. So I think we should give each other the benefit of the doubt. But we, your representatives—we have to earn this benefit of the doubt. We have to offer a vision. We have to explain where we want to take the country—and how we want to get there.
Now, there’s a fine line between being pragmatic and being unprincipled. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s here to start a career—and who’s here to serve a cause. But the true test is not which specific path you take; it is whether you move the country in the right direction.
And we will. From our governors in the states to our members in Congress—to the Tea Party groups across the country—a conservative, reform agenda is now taking shape. We’re offering a vision. And we’ve got plenty of ideas.
Take Senator Tim Scott and Leader Eric Cantor. They’ve said, sure, let’s make things a little more equal—let’s let every parent choose where their child goes to school—because we believe to help every child get ahead, every parent should get a choice.
Take Senator Mike Lee and Congressman Tom Graves. They want to give states more control over our highways, so they can build the roads they need—because we believe families should spend less time in traffic and more time at home.
Take Senator Marco Rubio. He wants to repair our safety net. He wants to streamline those government programs and give working families a boost—because we believe, in this country, it should always pay to work. We believe in the dignity of work.
Take Congresswoman Martha Roby. She’s got a great idea: If you work overtime, you should be able to take more paid time off—if you want to—because we believe that working parents know best how to balance their time, and Washington should stop standing in the way.
Take Chairman Dave Camp. He wants to lower tax rates for businesses and families. Right now, our tax code is ten times the size of the Bible and has none of the good news. Today the way it works is, you send your money to Washington. And if you do what Washington tells you to do, you get some of your money back. Well, here’s an idea: Why don’t you just keep it in the first place?
And take Obamacare. The way the President talks, you’d think there was no alternative. But we’ve got plenty. Senator Tom Coburn has one—so do Congressmen Phil Roe and Tom Price. Each plan has its virtues. But the unifying principle is clear. We believe you should pick your health-care plan—not Washington.
Once again, the GOP is where the action is—just as it was in Jack Kemp’s day—at the beginning of the Reagan Revolution. People forget that cutting taxes was once controversial, even in our own party. Senator Bob Dole used to make fun of supply-siders like Jack. He used to say: “The good news is . . . a bus load of supply-siders went over a cliff. The bad news is . . . a couple of seats were empty.” But over time, he warmed to the idea. And when he ran for president, he promised to cut tax rates across the board.
This is what we call the “the battle of ideas.” I saw it with my budget. When I introduced it in 2008, I had just eight co-sponsors. The political pros told everyone to stay away. Then the Tea Party members got elected, and now the House has passed it three years in a row. That’s how it always is: You fight it out. You figure out what works. You come together. Then you win. It’s messy and noisy and even a little bit uncomfortable. But the center of gravity is shifting. We’re not just opposing a President. We’re developing an agenda—a modern, pro-growth, principled agenda for our party. We are going to show the country there’s a better way.
The way I see it, let the other side be the party of personalities. We’ll be the party of ideas.
And I’m optimistic about our
chances—because the Left? The Left isn’t just out of ideas. It’s out of
touch. Take Obamacare. We now know that this law will discourage
millions of people from working. And the Left thinks this is a good
thing. They say, “Hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to
But I don’t think the problem is too many people are working—I think the problem is not enough people can find work. And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink—there will be less opportunity, not more. So the Left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.
This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand. We don’t want people to leave the workforce; we want them to share their skills and talents with the rest of us. And people don’t just want a life of comfort; they want a life of dignity—of self-determination. A life of equal outcomes is not nearly as enriching as a life of equal opportunity. The party that speaks to that desire—that tries to make it concrete and real—that’s the party that will win in November.
We are that party . . . because that’s the country we know. And in a few years . . . I think we will look back at 2014 as the time when we got it right . . . when we gave the country a real choice . . . when we earned back the people’s trust . . . and when we saved the American Idea.