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Justin Fox

Paul Ryan's Epic Fiscal Failure

Maybe, just maybe, he was never all that serious about fixing America's problems.
The world may never know.

The world may never know.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A decade ago, Paul Ryan was the man who was going to fix America's fiscal ills. The young Republican congressman from Wisconsin unveiled a "Roadmap for America's Future" -- in his words, "a real plan, with real proposals, real numbers to back them up, and real legislation to implement it" that would "address what I believe is the greatest threat to our nation’s long-term prosperity: the looming entitlement crisis." Many in the news media hailed him as a hard-nosed realist whose ideas deserved to be taken seriously.  

Now Ryan is ready to quit Congress after a three-year run as Speaker of the House of Representatives and stints before that as chairman of the Ways and Means and Budget committees. The "entitlement crisis" he warned about is still looming, and he will be leaving Capitol Hill with the country's fiscal position far, far worse than when he was first elected in 1998. One could argue that it's the worst ever, given that we're in the ninth year of an economic expansion and haven't fought a major war lately, yet gross federal debt is more than 100 percent of gross domestic product and the structural deficit has grown to something like 5 percent of GDP.