Gov. Mitt Romney announced Saturday morning that he's chosen 42-year-old Paul Ryan to be his running mate. Since 2008, the well-spoken Republican congressman from Janesville, Wis., has emerged as a leading figure on the right and a champion of reduced government spending.
Ryan, who is serving his seventh term in Congress, has earned the admiration of conservatives for the tough, government-slashing budget proposals he's put forward since becoming chairman of the House Budget Committee last year. But when he first arrived in Washington as a freshman lawmaker in 1999 at only 28 years old, budget shrinking wasn't exactly in style.
Ryan told the New Yorker that he was "miserable" during the George W. Bush years, when a Republican-majority Congress added $5 trillion to the debt in war spending, bank bailout, tax cuts and other costs. But Ryan also tended to vote with the majority at that time, though he put forward unsuccessful proposals to privatize Social Security and made other budget-shrinking suggestions.
In 2008, he released his "Roadmap for America's Future," which described his sweeping vision for how to make America's main entitlement programs of Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid solvent. The plan made him a hero among conservative circles, and Ryan eventually remade it as his "Path to Prosperity" plan, which President Barack Obama and Democrats have criticized for embracing tax cuts while slashing government programs that help the poor. (It wasn't just Democrats who criticized Ryan. While running for president, Newt Gingrich called Ryan's plan "right wing social engineering," which probably helped kill Gingrich's bid.)
Obama actually helped raise Ryan's profile on the right by critiquing the congressman's budget, and just last year, Ryan was reportedly mulling his own run for president.
An Ayn Rand fan, Ryan ably articulates a conservative vision for economic growth--a mark that Romney occasionally misses as he dodges the subject of his own personal wealth. "I think [Obama] looks at the economy as a fixed pie, and that it's government's role and duty to redistribute the slices in the name of equity versus our belief, which is 'Let's just grow the pie' and have an opportunity in our society for upward mobility—a society defined by upward mobility, not equal outcomes," he told Esquire magazine last year. "Under our view, we want to make sure people can get the opportunity to make the most of their lives, but that necessarily means that under the kind of economic-freedom system that we have had, you will have different outcomes of people's lives. And that's fine."
Ryan, who spent his early political career working for Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and the late Rep. Jack Kemp, grew up the fourth child in a Roman Catholic family that has lived in Janesville for five generations. He worked in his family's construction business after earning his degree in economics and political science from Miami University in Ohio. His father died when he was only 16, which prompted soul-searching that led Ryan to discover the works of Rand, who is still an influence on him. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his father's heart attack has also inspired him to be a fitness nut. In addition, he's a bow hunter and enjoys fishing. He and his wife, Janna Little, have three children.