Paul Ryan’s Record on Science and Government
U.S. Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) don’t have much in common when it comes to politics. Kucinich is a very liberal Democrat who’s leaving Congress this January after being defeated in a primary election by a more moderate colleague. Ryan is a conservative leader and now the Republican Party’s presumptive candidate for vice president. A dozen years ago, however, the two men found one thing they could agree on—killing the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a multibillion dollar laser fusion project at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
Kucinich wanted to cut construction funds for NIF because it would help sustain the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which he thinks should be eliminated. Ryan, in his first term, took a more pragmatic view: DOE hadn’t explained how it was going to deal with “amazing mismanagement problems,” “phenomenal cost overruns,” and extensive delays. “Let us watch our taxpayers’ dollars,” Ryan said on the House of Representatives floor in June 2000.
Ryan didn’t win that battle, although today the fusion project is still wrestling with many of the issues he highlighted. But the fight helped shape his reputation for attacking government spending programs that he feels are wasteful. And it marked a relatively rare case in which the Wisconsin politician took an active, high-profile position on a specific issue of interest to the scientific community.
A review by ScienceInsider of Ryan’s 14-year career in Congress suggests he holds some strong views on the role of the federal government in funding and regulating research and innovation. In particular, although Ryan has expressed strong support for government funding of basic science, his critics argue that a 10-year budget roadmap he authored—if enacted—would substantially slow future spending on fundamental studies.