Paul Ryan, Catholic Who Looks to Church's Social Teaching, Tapped as Romney Running Mate

Wisconsin congressman cheered by some as strong pro-lifer, criticized by others as wanting to reduce deficit ‘on the backs of the poor.’

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, wave as Ryan is announced as his vice-presidential running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin Aug. 11 in Norfolk, Va.
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, wave as Ryan is announced as his vice-presidential running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin Aug. 11 in Norfolk, Va. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A budget-cruncher who cites Catholic social teaching as an inspiration for his own economic thinking has been tapped for the second slot on the GOP presidential ticket.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, on Saturday named Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a seven-term congressman from Wisconsin, as his running mate.

The eagerly anticipated announcement was made in Norfolk, Va., where Ryan, 42, was joined on stage by his wife, Janna, and their three small children.

With the choice of Ryan, an advocate of entitlement reform and shrinking the size of the federal government, Romney has ensured that the role of government and the future of Medicare will figure prominently in this year’s race for the White House.

While Ryan has attracted harsh criticism from some Catholics — questioning whether he can rightly lay claim to the mantle of Catholic social teaching — other Catholics regard Ryan as an excellent choice.

“I am thrilled with the selection of Ryan,” Catholic theologian Michael Novak said, “because it emphasizes family, character and a vision that is on the offense against President Obama and that sees Obama as destroying the country’s military and financial structure and pitting class against class.”

“As a smart, serious Catholic, Congressman Ryan has been steadfast on issues of fundamental principle — defending religious liberty, life and traditional marriage,” The Catholic Association said in a press release.

“In addition, he has been thoughtful and articulate in applying Catholic principles to the other challenges facing America,” the statement added.

The selection also drew immediate praise from pro-life leaders.

“Paul Ryan has been an eloquent defender of life, articulating his view that policy and principles can work together,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life. “On the issue of defending life in particular, the use of the bully pulpit is crucial, and we look forward to hearing more from Congressman Ryan on the need to ensure that every person is welcomed in life and protected in law.”

“By selecting Congressman Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, Governor Romney demonstrates his commitment to protecting American women and unborn children,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “He has a pristine pro-life voting record and will be an asset to Governor Romney’s campaign.”

Still, Ryan is controversial in some Catholic circles. When he spoke at Georgetown University last spring, he was greeted by a statement from 60 Catholic theologians who charged that his budget plan was “morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good.”

A letter from nearly 90 faculty and administration officials at Georgetown informed Ryan that his budget plan “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

And — if that wasn’t enough — a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, led by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., sent a letter to Congress criticizing the Ryan budget.

Ryan replied in a brief statement that he shared their “commitment to a preferential option for the poor” — a key element of Catholic social teaching — but added that the option “does does not mean a preferential option for bigger government.”

Speaking at Georgetown, Ryan said that some Catholics “for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts … not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our Church. Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this.”


Throwing Granny Off a Cliff?

Ryan went on to say that the “overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations’ and ‘living in untruth.’"

“We in this country still have a window of time before a debt-fueled economic crisis becomes inevitable. We can still take control before our own needy suffer the fate of Greece. How we do this is a question for prudential judgment, about which people of good will can differ,” Ryan said at Georgetown.

Entering the fray Saturday morning, Ryan said, “I’m proud to stand with a man who understands what it takes to foster job creation in our economy, someone who knows from experience that if you have a small business — you did build that.”

This was a reference to President Obama’s “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” speech in July in Roanoke, Va. The remark, which has haunted the president’s campaign, is widely interpreted as putting the role of government over that of the individual.

With regard to Medicare, Ryan would allow the current system, as an option, but would introduce market-based competition and a patient-centered voucher system. This led to Democratic political ads featuring a Ryan lookalike pushing a grandmother in a wheelchair over a cliff.

“The first thing to understand is that granny is going to be thrown off the cliff anyway, if we don’t make changes to Medicare,” said Joseph Antos, Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Antos said that Ryan’s plan would modernize Medicare and make it more efficient.

Saying that “on fiscal matters, Paul Ryan has no peer,” Antos noted that Ryan gets to the root of problems. Antos said that, for example, “Ryan understands that sequester [across the board cuts] is a really terrible idea because it doesn’t take on the tough issues.”

“I like the Ryan choice very much,” said Paul Kengor, author and professor of political science at Grove City College. “Liberals are going to be attacking him as lacking in compassion, being a deficit hawk and hurting the poor. But, as Ronald Reagan would say, the best anti-poverty program is a growing economy. Paul Ryan wants to help the poor by growing the economy and with policies more in line with [the Catholic principle of] subsidiarity.”

“Everybody is going to be using the word ‘gravitas,’” Kengor continued, “and Paul Ryan has gravitas. They won’t Quayle him. They can’t make him look like a deer in the headlights. He will be able to answer the questions.”

Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.