Opinion

How Long Will Paul Ryan Stay In The House?

Joanne Butler Contributor

As President Obama’s trade bill limps to a vote in the House, some conservatives are upset at how House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has used many pivots and head-fakes to get votes for an Obama trade deal that many members haven’t read (it’s locked in a secret room in the Capitol). Amazingly, Ryan unwittingly echoed Nancy Pelosi when he admitted yesterday that the secret deal would be made public after it was passed.

The trade mess has shown us a new side of Ryan – not the blue-eyed boy next door, but a man who gets angry when other members don’t do what he wants.

For those conservatives who are shocked by Ryan favoring Obama’s secret trade deal, I say: you must have selective and short memories.

Back in 2011, Ryan was photographed having dinner at a swanky D.C. restaurant with a hedge-fund manager and the manager’s sidekick, a University of Chicago professor who just happens to paid through an endowment by said hedge-fund guy.

Ryan’s dining partners were Cliff Asness, who left Goldman Sachs in the late 1990s to start up his hedge fund, AQR Capital Management. The other was John Cochrane, who holds the AQR Capital Management Chair in finance at Chicago.

The embarrassing thing about the dinner was how Asness had ordered two bottles of wine, at $350 each.

To be fair, when Ryan was told of the cost by another diner, he put down his glass, paid for one of the bottles, and skedaddled out of the restaurant.

But Ryan’s hanging out with a hedge-fund manager may seem a bit like Eric Cantor’s situation when the former House Republican Majority Leader lost his seat in the 2014 primary for being perceived as too close to Wall Street and forgetting about his constituents.

Many conservatives cheered when Dave Brat beat Cantor, but in a way both men won. Brat is in the House, while Cantor resigned soon after the primary and took a $3.4 million job at an investment bank. If Cantor’s punishment is a $3.4 million paycheck, they can punish me for half the price.

Back to Paul Ryan:  you’d have to be very naïve not to believe that he sees a huge payday ahead the moment he leaves Congress. And being a numbers guy (unlike Cantor) he would add value to any hedge fund or investment bank.

Isn’t this what being an American is all about? Work hard, acquire knowledge and skills, and the marketplace will reward you?

It seems to me that Ryan’s recent lack of comity with his fellow House Republicans indicates he’s unlikely to become speaker upon John Boehner’s retirement. Therefore the chairmanship of Ways and Means will effectively be Ryan’s last Congressional job.

Thus I see his situation not as an if question regarding his next job, but when. His chairmanship runs out in 2021 – but will he wait that long?

Remember Ryan’s father lived only to age 55, and Ryan is now age 45. As he was the one (at age 16) to discover his father’s body, he is undoubtedly very aware of his own mortality. Does he want to wait until 2021 to get Cantor-sized pay? My guess is no.

Ryan and his wife have three children, the oldest is approximately age 12. In six years or less child number one will be going to college. That’s incentive enough for Ryan to grab the cash and head to the private sector.

Lastly, to those conservatives who see Ryan as a traitor to the movement, they should see his super-comfy re-elect numbers. Since his first re-election campaign, Ryan’s wins in the general election have been in 60 percent rage, going as high as 67 percent in 2000 and 2002. His numbers dipped in 2012 to 55 percent (when he was also the Republican vice presidential candidate), but bounced back last year to 63.3 percent.

Some of his constituents have complained about a lack of access (in 2011 he was charging his constituents $15 to attend a town hall meeting), but when it’s voting time, Ryan wins easily.

Ryan may get a serious primary challenger one day, but I doubt it. Ryan’s roots in his district run to several generations (his grandfather was a U.S. attorney for western Wisconsin under President Coolidge), and much of his extended family still live there.

My message to conservatives who are angry and disillusioned about Paul Ryan is: make it dead certain that Ryan can never get the speakership. Never. Once Ryan realizes this, he’ll pull the plug on his congressional career and opt for the multi-million dollar job sooner rather than later.

Market forces are indeed a beautiful thing. Just ask Eric Cantor. And (someday) Paul Ryan.