NAME — Paul Davis Ryan
AGE-BIRTH DATE-LOCATION — 42; Jan. 29, 1970; Janesville, Wis.
EXPERIENCE — U.S. Representative; 1998-present; marketing consultant, Ryan Inc. Central, 1997-1998; legislative director for U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, 1995-1997; adviser and speechwriter, Empower America, 1993-1995; aide to U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten, 1992.
EDUCATION — Bachelor's degree, Miami University of Ohio, 1992.
FAMILY — Wife, Janna; a daughter and two sons.
Rep. Paul Ryan is viewed by some in the Republican Party as a bridge between the buttoned-up GOP establishment and the riled-up tea party movement that has never warmed to Mitt Romney.
As the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan could help Romney make the argument that only the GOP ticket knows how to turn around a nation in the midst of a sluggish economic recovery. As talk about Ryan swirled this week, Democrats have been castigating Romney for embracing the Ryan-sponsored budget proposal that critics say is painful to the poor and elderly. It was a sign of the line of attack to come if Ryan is on the ticket.
The move also would link Romney directly with House Republicans, including no-compromise tea partyers who have pressed for deep spending cuts. President Barack Obama has been casting House Republicans as an impediment to progress in the often-gridlocked Washington.
At the same time, Ryan on the ticket could help Romney become more competitive in Wisconsin, a state Obama won handily four years ago but that could be much tighter this November.
The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial on Thursday, praised Ryan as a strong choice for Romney: "The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House budget chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline."
At 42, Ryan has spent almost half of his life in the Washington fold, the last 14 representing a southern Wisconsin district that runs from the shores of Lake Michigan through farm country south of Madison.
Ryan grew up in Janesville and still lives just down the block from where he spent his boyhood. His father, a lawyer, died of a heart attack when Ryan was a teenager. It's why Ryan is a fitness buff, leading fellow lawmakers through grueling, early-morning workouts and pushing himself through mountain climbs.
That same intensity propelled him on the political front, too.
He was first exposed to Congress as a summer intern to Sen. Robert Kasten. With an economics degree in hand, Ryan worked his way through committee staff assignments, a prominent think tank and top legislative advisory roles until opportunity arose with an open seat from his home turf. He leveraged Washington connections, local ties forged through the family construction business and the backing of anti-abortion groups en route to his surprisingly comfortable victory.
As a 28-year-old, Ryan entered Congress brimming with idealistic views about forcing government to become leaner and less intrusive, principles he thought even fellow Republicans were abandoning too readily.
"One of the first lessons I learned was, even if you come to Congress believing in limited government and fiscal prudence once you get here you are bombarded with pressure to violate your conscience and your commitment to help secure the people's natural right to equal opportunity," Ryan wrote in a 2010 book.
Critics question Ryan's own consistency. They note that he backed a costly prescription drug benefit during Republican George W. Bush's presidency that added strain to the Medicare budget, which Ryan touted at the time as "one of the most critical pieces of legislation" enacted since he joined Congress. He said in a June interview with The Associated Press that he took a "defensive" vote to ward off a more expensive Senate version. More recently, Ryan served on a bipartisan presidential debt commission but balked at its report because a tax increase was on the menu of options.
He is a disciple of and past aide to the late Rep. Jack Kemp, once a GOP vice presidential nominee himself who effusively promoted tax cuts as a central tenet for economic growth.
From the title page of his idyllic "Path to Prosperity" budget plan down to the most scrutinized fine print, Ryan is adept at framing proposals in the most pleasant terms.
Ryan's opponents charge that his call to open Medicare to more private competition is too risky even if implementation would be a ways off; he counters that the latest version was fashioned in consultation with prominent Democrats in hopes of heading off an all-out program collapse that would devastate the financial security of future retirees. Foes say his plans to scale back food stamps and housing assistance are mean-spirited; Ryan describes the moves, which would allow states to further customize their welfare programs while imposing tougher time limits and work requirements, as empowerment for the downtrodden who he argues are being lulled into lives of complacency and dependency.
It took time for Ryan's own party to get fully behind his ideas. A few years ago, when Ryan first proposed dramatic changes to entitlement programs like Medicare some in the GOP were skittish because Democrats pounced on the plans as undermining the health program accessed by millions of retirees.
Kasten said Ryan's refusal to back down paid off politically.
"If all the sudden you become the dartboard for everyone on the left and you are willing to stand there and take the heat and the darts, you develop a tremendous amount of respect even from those who are throwing the darts," Kasten said. "In the beginning it's a grudging respect. It grows into a true respect."
Ryan has let opportunities to advance come and go, most recently when he opted not to seek an open U.S. Senate seat. His young family factored into his considerations; he and wife, tax attorney Janna, have a daughter and two sons.