Is a Ryan Speakership Good for Construction?

Thu October 29, 2015 - National Edition

Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan.

With the election of Rep. Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House, he might help spur Congress in a new direction. From the perspective of the nation’s construction industry, that would be a good thing.

It is not as if Ryan is unaware of the industry. His great-grandfather took his team of mules and founded an earthmoving company that today, 130 years later, is Ryan Incorporated Central., a Wisconsin site-work firm with projects across Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.

Ryan is someone John Boehner’s House antagonists ought to be able to embrace. Like many of the so-called Tea Party enthusiasts, Ryan is an economic conservative with credentials going clear back to Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. None of his peers in the self-described Freedom Caucus can boast the same.

He voted against the 2009 stimulus package because he correctly saw it as a waste of money. President Obama ruefully acknowledged his almost $900 billion spending package failed to create lasting jobs and kick-start construction projects, saying they apparently weren’t as shovel-ready as he’d imagined. A missed opportunity for builders.

Ryan opposes raising the gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements, preferring the economic stimulus of low gas prices to more tax collection by Washington. But he deplores the annual patchwork funding of highway bills and wants to explore tolls, public-private partnerships, and a new state-federal structure of highway funding. He wants a permanent fix of the busted funding mechanism. No argument here.

Ryan is a reformist, in other words, also pushing overdue tax reform and an immigration system that protects our borders and quits fouling up America’s employment picture. Bring it on.

He opposed Obamacare as just another costly and inefficient federal mandate—famously challenging the president with facts and figures during a White House work session. Nothing since has changed his mind. Many construction industry executives and workers are of like mind.

The estranged Republican minority in the House abhors business as usual—the chummy atmosphere that has produced decades of poor federal governance. That’s to their credit. But Paul Ryan isn’t chummy. He has carved out a place on the Hill as a no-nonsense, data-driven, small-government House member. If given a chance, he might be the antidote for a dysfunctional House and help put Congress—and the building industry—back to work.