Getting To Know Rep. Paul Ryan

In Norfolk, Va. on Saturday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced that his running mate is Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin. What does Ryan bring to the table, and will it be enough?

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The Republican ticket is now complete. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, yesterday named Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate. The pair are campaigning today in North Carolina and then they'll head to Wisconsin, Ryan's home state. Ryan is a 14-year veteran of Congress, known mostly for his work on budget issues. He's beloved by conservatives for his willingness to propose dramatic changes to big entitlement programs, like social Security and Medicare.

NPR's Brian Naylor has this profile.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Forty-two-year-old Paul Ryan is from Janesville, Wisconsin. He told The New Yorker he still lives on the block he grew up on. His father, a lawyer, died when he was just 16. Among his early jobs, Paul Ryan worked for Oscar Mayer. He told CNN recently he has fond memories of that summer.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: I actually sold Oscar Mayer products to Northern Minnesota. And meat managers in Northern Minnesota are up really early in the morning. And then they kick off at about 3 o'clock to go fishing. So you got to be in the stores from about 4 in the morning till about three in the afternoon and then, like those guys, I would just go out fishing mostly for walleye in Northern Minnesota, which was a great summer. A good job.

NAYLOR: Ryan still fishes and bow hunts.

He first went to Washington to work as an aide to then Senator Bob Kasten, a Wisconsin Republican. He then had a stint at a new conservative think tank, Empower America, where he wrote speeches for co-founder Jack Kemp, the late Republican congressman. Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he admired Kemp's brand of inclusive conservatism, and his pro-growth happy warrior style.

In 1998 Ryan moved back to Wisconsin to run for Congress. His pitch then, not too different from today.

RYAN: This is about the battle of ideas. That is why were here. We believe in a certain set of ideas, in a philosophy - less government more personal freedom. We believe in issues like life. We believe in issues like freedom, the core principles that founded this country

NAYLOR: Ryan won a surprisingly easy victory that year, and at age 28 became the youngest Republican in the House. Ryan has made his mark in Congress by focusing on budget policy issues. He has proposed allowing Social Security recipients to invest part of their benefits in the stock market; a plan which though adopted by the Bush administration failed in the face of united opposition from Democrats.

More recently, he's proposed replacing Medicare for future recipients with a form of vouchers. It's part of the budget approved by the House but has gone nowhere in the Senate. And as he told NPR last fall, he favors closing tax loopholes, but he hasn't said which ones.

RYAN: I'm not suggesting we should cut taxes. I'm saying we should reform the tax system. Our proposal that we passed in the House budget in April said get rid of the loopholes, lower everybody's tax rates. Because we'll have more growth, more tax compliance and better competitive tax system.

NAYLOR: While Ryan has not been in the forefront of the battle over social issues in Congress, there too he takes a conservative line. Appearing on NBC's "Meet The Press" earlier this year, Ryan criticized the Obama administration for mandating that Catholic institutions include birth control, in the health insurance policies they offer their employees.

RYAN: The question is can the government mandate that people violate their religious teaching, their conscience, their freedom of religion. Look, I can tell you as a Catholic - the charities and the hospitals - they don't enforce doctrine, they don't interpret it. It's the bishops, and they're very clear in saying this is a violation of our constitutional rights.

NAYLOR: Bob Vander Plaats, chairman of the Family Leader, a conservative social group, calls Ryan a solid choice for Mitt Romney.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: I think, as you heard congressman Ryan say, that our freedom and our rights come from God not from government. We base our law on the law of nature, and the law of nature is God. And we really believe that we need a candidate that's going to be bold. Congressman Ryan has shown a willingness to be bold because this country faces some real issues.

NAYLOR: And by selecting Ryan, Mitt Romney has put those issues - taxes, entitlements, the size of government - in the forefront of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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