WASHINGTON - When Congressman Paul Ryan has been asked the past few years about the value of stimulus to the sagging economy and the nation's jobless, the Wisconsin Republican has dismissed it as meaningless, and dubbed it "sugar-high economics."
But that's when President Obama is pushing for the spending. When it was President George W. Bush arguing for more stimulus to boost a slow economy in the early 2000s, Ryan's economic analysis was entirely different.
"What we're trying to accomplish today with the passage of this third stimulus package is to create jobs and help the unemployed," Ryan said, in comments unearthed by MSNBC's "Up with Chris Hayes" and provided to HuffPost. "What we're trying to accomplish is to pass the kinds of legislation that when they've passed in the past have grown the economy and gotten people back to work."
Video of the comments will be aired at 8:00 a.m. Sunday on MSNBC.
"In recessions unemployment lags on well after a recovery has taken place," Ryan accurately noted in 2002.
Conservatives have routinely mocked Vice President Joe Biden for arguing that in order to reduce the deficit in the long run, the government needs to spend more now; that sentiment is lampooned in a recent pro-Republican campaign ad. But Biden's analysis -- that the government needs to juice the economy to promote growth, or else revenue will fall long term -- is one that Ryan himself articulated cogently back when the GOP was urging stimulus. Ryan called such stimulus a "constructive answer" worked out on "a bipartisan basis." Opponents of stimulus, Ryan said, ought to "drop the demagoguery."
"We've got to get the engine of economic growth growing again because we now know, because of recession, we don't have the revenues that we wanted to, we don't have the revenues we need, to fix Medicare, to fix Social Security, to fix these issues. We've got to get Americans back to work. Then the surpluses come back, then the jobs come back. That is the constructive answer we're trying to accomplish here on, yes, a bipartisan basis. I urge members to drop the demagoguery and to pass this bill to help us work together to get the American people back to work and help those people who've lost their jobs," Ryan said.
Bush's stimulus, which included an extension of jobless benefits and resulted in checks being mailed to millions of Americans, was signed in March 2002.
"We have a lot of laid off workers, and more layoffs are occurring," the congressman continued. "And we know, as a historical fact, that even if our economy begins to slowly recover, unemployment is going to linger on and on well after that recovery takes place. What we have been trying to do starting in October and into December and now is to try and get people back to work. The things we're trying to pass in this bill are the time-tested, proven, bipartisan solutions to get businesses to stop laying off people, to hire people back, and to help those people who have lost their jobs."
While Obama has been in office, Ryan has voted against extending unemployment benefits and against helping laid-off workers pay for health insurance by subsidizing COBRA payments.
Such actions are difficult to square with 2002's Paul Ryan.
"It's more than just giving someone an unemployment check," he said then. "It's also helping those people with their health insurance while they've lost their jobs and more important than just that unemployment check, it's to do what we can to give people a paycheck."
Ryan also made pro-stimulus arguments in a 2001 congressional hearing, as Jonathan Chait points out.
"I think we ought to have this income tax cut fast, deeper, retroactive to January 1st, to make sure we get a good punch into the economy, juice the economy to make sure that we can avoid a hard landing," he had said.