In Defense of a Family Man

Debunking the disingenuous attacks on Paul Ryan wanting to spend time with his family

After weeks of uncertainty following the announcement of the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), it seems that things have finally settled for the House Republican Conference. Despite spending nearly a month forcefully rejecting the pleas of his colleagues to run for the country’s third highest governmental position, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) finally caved and announced he would campaign for the post if he could garner the support of each Republican caucus.

This week, Ryan secured the backing of the conservative Republican Study Committee, the more moderate Tuesday Group and the Tea Party-inspired House Freedom Caucus. With the Speaker’s election slated for next Wednesday, it appears Ryan has locked up the promotion from his colleagues.

When disclosing his consideration of the position to the House Republican Conference earlier this week, Ryan, who has three small children, explained that he would not take the job if it meant spending every weekend away from his family in Janesville. The media irresponsibly spun this as an unusual demand from a candidate for Speaker, ignoring the fact that Ryan was only grudgingly seeking the post at the request of his fellow Republicans and that if he were to run, it would be a condition of his Speakership, not a demand he made of his colleagues.

Predictably, the same people who can’t ever find a reason to support any Republican leader whined that Ryan’s desire to be with his wife and young children on the weekends meant he wasn’t willing to sacrifice for his country. T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner chronicled their comments, including the way many had lavished praise upon Ryan in years past.

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When study after study shows the benefits of an active two-parent household, Ryan should be lauded for wanting to be engaged in raising his children. | Photo: Office of Paul Ryan

Perhaps the most rabid in her critique of Ryan was talk show host Laura Ingraham, who has often enthusiastically praised the congressman and has even invited him on her program several times. Over the past few days, the mother of three has tweeted dozens of times regarding her contempt for Ryan, emphasizing how his “demand” to have weekends with his family was inappropriate. She even compared him to George Washington and John Adams, saying that these two American patriots left their families for years at a time and that if Ryan loved his country, he’d be willing to make sacrifices.

For generations, the Right has promoted two-parent households, arguing that children are done a disservice when one or both parents do not actively participate in their upbringing. Ryan, who has been dragged into this position practically unwillingly, has been a very stable presence in his young children’s lives, even as he’s worked in Washington. I’ve personally witnessed him bringing his son on the floor of the House to accompany him as he was voting. So, it’s no surprise that the man who lost his own father at a very young age would want to remain an important part of his children’s lives.

Perhaps Ryan’s detractors don’t understand how Congress works, so allow me to give them a primer. Even if Congress is only scheduled to be in session for 135 days one year, that doesn’t mean a member isn’t working 350 days or more. When he or she is in his or her district, there are numerous obligations each day. In fact, many Members have so many meetings that they are blocked in 10-minute increments to maximize the amount of work that can be done.

It is not unusual for a member to take 20 meetings a day when he or she is home in their district. There are site visits, meetings with state legislators, get-togethers with civic or professional organizations, field hearings, speeches at schools, military events, fundraisers for themselves and other causes, strategy sessions with district staff and so on. If your district is large, there is a great deal of travel to ensure that your constituents’ needs are met.

I am certainly not insinuating that those with the honor to represent their neighbors in Congress are complaining about the workload or want to shirk their responsibilities. But it’s either extraordinarily naïve or willfully misleading to suggest that members of Congress, especially one as in-demand as Ryan is, do not work hard.

The circular firing squad on the Right is especially unhelpful when the Left is armed and ready to attack Ryan on the Family Leave Act (something Ingraham was more than happy to help them do). Like clockwork, thousands of liberals took to social media, united in the same complaint that Ryan had previously voted against legislation that would provide paid family leave, and therefore, had no license to argue for time with his own family. Naturally, their singular argument contains several holes.

Unlike paid family leave advocates, Ryan is not requesting his employer (the taxpayers) provide him with paid time off to hang out with his kids. He’s asking to use his weekends, for which he is not paid, to spend time with his family

First, Ryan never said he wouldn’t work any weekends. He wants a semblance of returning to regular order, something folks on both sides of the aisle should appreciate, to eliminate unnecessary days of being in D.C. and improving efficiency in Congress. Wouldn’t it be nice to not govern from crisis to crisis? Aren’t those things we can all agree would be helpful?

Next, he did not, unlike the paid family leave advocates, demand that taxpayers pay for time off with his family. Members of Congress are already expected to work some weekends on critical legislation or at district events, but there are no session days scheduled on weekends. Therefore, Ryan is not requesting his employer (the taxpayers) provide him with paid time off to hang out with his kids. He’s asking to use his weekends, for which he is not paid, to spend time with his family as often as possible.

Further, Republicans have championed reform of leave practices, including a creative approach from Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), which would allow workers to choose either overtime payments or extra time off from their employers. This legislation passed the House in May 2013, and Ryan voted for the bill. Labor unions oppose the legislation because it weakens their organizational authority, so even though it helps families, Democrats voted against it.

The organized, manufactured outrage of the Left on this matter is so overtly disingenuous, while the Right’s criticism of Ryan on it is astonishingly tone-deaf and baseless. After weeks of his colleagues begging him to run, Ryan has finally given in and the vast majority of the House GOP Conference is going to vote for him.

If they’re fine with his modest condition of being with his kids on the weekends, everyone else should be, too.

Ellen Carmichael is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter at @ellencarmichael.