Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) expressed outrage Wednesday at the notion that Democrats would attempt to protect hundreds of thousands of DACA beneficiaries in an upcoming vote on the debt ceiling, warning that they should not “play politics” as the nation deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and prepares for Hurricane Irma. But while he called such an effort “ridiculous and disgraceful,” his own record stands in sharp contrast to his rhetoric.
At a press conference, Ryan was asked about reports that Democrats would seek a three-month debt limit increase and might attempt to attach protections for children of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors (a provision that President Trump demanded Congress consider).
“I think that’s a ridiculous idea,” the Wisconsin Republican responded. “I hope they don’t mean that. We’ve got all this devastation in Texas. We’ve got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida and they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to the victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur and then also want to threaten default on our debt. I think that is ridiculous and disgraceful, that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment when we have fellow citizens in need to respond to these hurricanes so that we do not strand them.”
Ryan continued by talking about the need to make sure FEMA does not run out of money. “Look, many of us got the calls from the administration and OMB, who said FEMA is moving so fast that we are running out of money as early as Friday to Tuesday. So we have got to make sure that we have the authority, the legal authority to go out and be able to put money back into FEMA, so we can respond to these hurricanes. Not to mention the fact that we have to start pre-positioning for the fact that Irma is about to hit Florida. And to play politics with the debt ceiling, like [Senate Democratic Leader Chuck] Schumer and [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi apparently are doing, I don’t think, is a good idea.”
But in 2010, as a member of the House minority, Ryan vocally opposed an increase in the debt ceiling without concessions. “This bill raises the debt limit by $1.9 trillion. It’s a fiscal cop-out so that we can talk tough in the election about how we did this and that, while we bequeathed the next generation an inferior standard of living,” he complained before voting against the measure. In 2011, as House Budget chairman, he demanded that any debt limit be tied to cuts to government spending: “The problem is if we just raise the debt limit without doing anything, like the president has asked, that, too, will undermine confidence in the bond markets and could trigger a debt downgrade. … We (Republicans) are trying to get some spending controls so we can get a down payment on the problem to avoid a debt crisis.” Again, in 2013, he tied the two together, offering a short term debt limit increase but insisting that “some progress being made on getting this deficit and debt under control.”
What’s more, Ryan’s concern for storm victims and FEMA funding was not evident in 2013, in the days after Superstorm Sandy decimated much of the Atlantic coast. Ryan voted against the emergency aid package to fund the response, misleadingly claiming it was laden with “non-Sandy expenses.” He denounced the legislation as “the latest example of Washington using hardship to achieve political ends,” though reportedly he and the GOP now plan to tie the debt ceiling to hurricane legislation.