Dear Mr. Speaker,
Congratulations on your retirement at the end of this Congress. It presents a good opportunity to reflect on your 20 years of service as a representative of the great state of Wisconsin and the legacy you leave behind.
Your career as a congressman has been illustrious. Before taking the gavel as Speaker, you chaired both the powerful House Budget Committee and the House Committee on Ways and Means. For a politician who was elected at age 28 and has not yet turned 50, that was a very impressive accomplishment. No doubt you had a lot more going for you than the sparkling blue eyes and boyish good looks that made you the darling of the beltway press for almost two decades.
In so many ways, I see your career as representative of the hard-right turn of the Republican Party in the 1990s. As you were entering Congress, former speaker, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), was resigning in disgrace. Still, the no compromise, corrosive partisan atmosphere he created remained among many GOP members and no doubt influenced you too.
You were a leading advocate of President George W. Bush’s failed plan to privatize Social Security in the mid-2000s. After the Tea Party sweep of the House in 2010, you began drafting budgets for the GOP that would implement the party’s grand conservative scheme — eviscerate the federal government, repeal Obamacare, cut taxes for the wealthy and dismantle the social safety net. Your legislative mission was to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens by slashing funding for so-called entitlements.
I suspect you would agree with an email I received from a conservative acquaintance who had a unique way of cutting Medicare costs: “If you don’t have the money to pay at least a significant portion of your final years for care and costs, don’t have a long term care policy or a family that can help defray the costs, you may be placed in a large facility specifically to offer only palliative care. If that happens, you will be kept pain free until you die. But no money will be spent for long term care, surgeries, emergency room visits or efforts to make you well, because it will simply be too costly, and our nation won’t be able to afford it.”
This gentleman went on to describe what he believed Americans should be entitled to: “We can have and spend what we have created, and feel free, without guilt, to use for ourselves and our loved ones. Those who have earned their wealth by their hard work, ingenuity and yes, luck, are not required by law to be their “brother’s keepers.”
The various federal budgets you drafted that cut trillions from health care, education and social services supported theories like these. But in the end, however, almost none of the policies you advocated over two decades have been adopted except the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. So, after years of railing against President Obama for using deficit spending to help bring the economy out of the Great Recession, you thought nothing of increasing deficits by $1.5 trillion to give tax cuts to those who didn’t need them.
Recently, you said that “history is going to be very good to this [GOP House] majority” because of the tax overhaul passed and increased funding for the military. Well, history is only one short year now and it’s already not “very good” for you and Republicans.
In fact, you have pretty much been a total failure for the conservatives that have supported you. How have you failed? Let me count a few ways:
You portrayed yourself as deeply religious, but you fired Rev. Patrick Conroy, Chaplin of the House of Representatives, because one of his prayers was mildly critical of your precious tax cut bill. Even Republicans trashed you for that small-minded decision and forced you to reverse it.
As Speaker you strongly supported Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as he attempted every procedural maneuver and underhanded trick he could use to undermine the Justice Department, the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
You have had the high honor of holding an office that only 52 men and one woman have succeeded in achieving since 1789, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative — the people’s house. As the third most powerful person in government, you could have been a leader revered in history, a campion of immigration reform, a protector of the rule of law and a bulwark against a mendacious, authoritarian President Trump and his far-right supporters in your caucus. Instead, after getting your long-desired tax cut you are — as the Brits might say — “buggering off.”
So, go, and good riddance. You are leaving a legacy of cowardice and shame, a stain on the high office you held. According to Business Insider you could receive a lifetime annual pension of almost $85,000. But no doubt that will just be pocket change compared to what you will receive as a conservative speaker, lobbyist and right-wing think-tank member.
In the end, however, your conservative, heartless goals weren’t draconian enough for the far-right House Freedom Caucus; and as partisan as you were, I don’t believe you are even well respected by the GOP.
Let that be the summary of your political career.