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After 8 years of fact-checking Paul Ryan, our top 15 claims
We have fact checked statements made by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, shown here announcing he won't seek re-election, 84 times. (Getty Images) We have fact checked statements made by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, shown here announcing he won't seek re-election, 84 times. (Getty Images)

We have fact checked statements made by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, shown here announcing he won't seek re-election, 84 times. (Getty Images)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 11, 2018

Here’s a review of 15 fact checks on statements made by, and about, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced April 11, 2018 that he would not seek re-election in November 2018.

The Republican was first elected to his southern Wisconsin House seat in 1998, and was elected by his colleagues as speaker in October 2015.

Overall, the 84 fact checks on statements made by Ryan break down this way on the Truth-O-Meter:

True: 12 percent.

Mostly True: 19 percent

Half True: 27 percent

Mostly False: 27 percent

False: 8 percent

Pants on Fire: 6 percent

The fact checks of enduring interest include claims made by Ryan about guns, health care and taxes (including one about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers).

And the fact checks on statements made by others about Ryan include claims by comedian Stephen Colbert and President Donald Trump.


1. We "have laws on the books designed to prevent people with mental illnesses from getting firearms."

Our rating: Half True.

Ryan made this claim in the wake of Parkland. A federal law, and some state laws, do prohibit people adjudicated as "mentally defective" or involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from possessing a gun. But experts say that standard includes people who do not pose a danger to others. And it does not account for a much larger set of people who might be dangerous but have not been diagnosed with, or treated for, a serious mental illness.

2. Under the House Republican tax plan, in Wisconsin, "the median household of four gets about a $2,000 tax cut, on average."

Our rating: Half True.

Ryan’s statement about the federal tax reform later signed by President Donald Trump was true if the typical household Ryan describes claims a standard deduction on their taxes rather than itemizing deductions. The savings would be $2,081 -- in 2018. But many Wisconsin households at that income level would see a savings of several hundred dollars less because they would no longer be able to claim deductions such as one for medical expenses, which the House bill eliminates. Moreover, because of the way the House bill was written, even the household that saves $2,081 in 2018 would see that savings drop in each year, down to an estimated $767 in 2027.

3. "We've got about $3 trillion in trapped cash overseas that basically can't come back in this country because of our tax laws."

Our rating: Mostly True.

Ryan made this claim in September 2017. To avoid a 35 percent U.S. tax, U.S.-based multinational companies opted not to "repatriate" roughly $3 trillion of their foreign profits. That is, they don’t bring the money back to their U.S. headquarters, where it can be used for things such as dividend payments or investments in their domestic operations. But the overseas profits aren’t literally trapped and indeed some foreign-earned profits are repatriated, though they are subject to the 35 percent tax.

4. Aaron Rodgers "is not the highest tax rate payer" in Wisconsin, it's "the single mom getting 24 grand in benefits with two kids who will lose 80 cents on the dollar if she goes and takes a job."

Our rating: Mostly False.

There was some mixing of apples and oranges here. The reference to Rodgers was for the actual highest rate he would pay for income taxes. With regard to the single mother, Ryan was referring to her marginal tax rate -- how much in public benefits she would lose by taking a job. Ryan was correct that it’s possible for the woman he described to lose 80 cents in benefits for every $1 in income earned -- an 80 percent marginal tax rate. But that occurs in very rare cases where the mother would be receiving a higher than typical set of public benefits and would take a job within a narrow income range above the poverty level. The vast majority of lower income people aren’t hit with a marginal tax rate as high as 80 percent, although even lower rates are considered strong disincentives to work. And advocates for the poor say the unemployed generally are better off financially by taking a job, even if they lose some public assistance.

5. "We got to a point that our Air Force pilots were going to museums to find spare parts over the last eight years" under Barack Obama.

Our rating: Pants on Fire.

Saying the military was plunged into a readiness crisis under Obama, Ryan made the claim in May 2017. It was a broad claim, but his office cited only one news article that quoted an Air Force captain as saying parts for seven planes were obtained from "museum aircraft." Meanwhile, defense experts told us that Ryan’s claim was highly misleading, in that any such museum scrounging, if it has ever occurred, is isolated. Indeed, the Air Force operates a base whose main functions include storing thousands of planes to be available for spare parts.

The experts also agreed that even as defense spending dropped under Obama, the Air Force had sufficient funding to prevent the need for pilots to hunt for airplane parts in museums.

6. Obamacare "is in what the actuaries call a death spiral."

Our rating: False.

Ryan made this claim -- which received more page views than any other Ryan statement we checked -- in January 2017. A death spiral is a health industry term for a cycle with three components — shrinking enrollment, healthy people leaving the system and rising premiums. The latest data showed enrollment was increasing slightly and younger (typically healthier) people were signing up at the same rate as the previous year. And while premiums were increasing, that wasn’t affecting the cost to most consumers due to built-in subsidies.

7. Obamacare "is not a popular law."

Our rating: Mostly True.

A majority of Americans in two national polls done in late-October 2016, in the weeks before Ryan made his statement, said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act. Those findings tracked polls taken throughout 2016 -- unfavorable or disapprove led favorable or approve. Similarly, the majority in a September 2016 poll said the law was working somewhat or very poorly. But in one October 2016 poll, favorable and unfavorable tied. And in two polls, expanding or keeping the law as-is was favored by more people than repealing it or scaling it back.

8. "Repeated requests for additional security in Benghazi were routinely denied" by Hillary "Clinton’s State Department."

Our rating: True.

Ryan’s claim about the terror attacks in Libya in 2012 avoided trouble by focusing on the State Department, then led by Clinton, rather than on Clinton herself. It’s well documented that the department didn’t honor requests for more security prior to the 2012 attacks that killed four Americans.

9. "The poverty rates in America today aren’t much better than when we started the War on Poverty."

Our rating: Half True.

When Ryan made the claim in July 2016, the official poverty rate had dropped from 19 percent in 1964 to about 15 percent. Another measure, the supplemental poverty rate, suggested the rate of poverty decreased 10 percentage points over roughly the same time period. So, over time, living conditions had improved with government assistance, but the measure of self-sufficiency had been relatively stagnant.

10. "People have a constitutional right to have semiautomatic rifles."

Our rating: Mostly True.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not explicitly declared that Americans have a constitutional right to semiautomatic rifles. And states can, within certain parameters, put restrictions on those guns. But generally speaking, experts told us, semiautomatic rifles are a legal weapon that fall under the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.


11. "Paul Ryan has blocked all action to strengthen our gun laws."

Our rating: Mostly False.

Giffords PAC, named for former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., made the statement in the wake of the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The anti-gun violence political action committee cited a dozen gun-control measures that didn’t get to a vote in the House. So, it’s clear that Ryan did not move to bring those measures to the floor. But that’s not the same as Ryan himself blocking the measures, given that other lawmakers, such as committee chairs, also have such power. Also, a bill that would strengthen background checks did pass the House -- although it also expanded gun rights, by making it legal for licensed concealed carry holders to bring guns across state lines.

12. Paul Ryan "has not had a public town hall within the district for over 600 days."

Our rating: Mostly True.

The statement was made in July 2017 by Randy Bryce, one of two Democrats running for Ryan’s House seat in 2018. Bryce’s claim was broad and didn’t account for the emerging ways people can communicate with public officials, but he was mostly on target in saying Ryan hadn’t held a traditional town hall in almost two years.

13. "Paul Ryan shut off the C-SPAN cameras when the Democrats started their sit-in."

Our rating: Mostly False.

This June 2016 statement was by Colbert. Ryan didn't order the cameras shut off in response to the protest,which was staged to try to force a vote on gun-control legislation.. They were turned off because House Republicans declared the House session in recess. That's a standard policy of Congress, even if it was Republicans making the decision.

14. When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, "that was the end" of Romney’s chances to win.

Our rating: False.

Trump made this statement when reflecting on the 2012 presidential campaign. Polls taken in the days after Ryan’s selection generally showed that Romney’s standing vs Barack Obama was as good or better than in the days before the pick. We couldn’t find any evidence that the Ryan pick sunk the ticket.

15. "Paul Ryan is one of less than a dozen Republican congressmen to have voted for every bailout to come before Congress."

Our rating: Mostly False. editor-in-chief Erick Erickson made the statement in October 2015 just before Ryan was made speaker, when there were worries among some on the right whether Ryan was conservative enough. Ryan was one of 20 GOP House members who voted for the TARP banks-rescue bill and for a related auto industry bailout measure that did not become law, although he was only one of only five of those members who were still in the House at the time of Erickson’s claim. But Ryan voted against the bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae home-laon enterprises.


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After 8 years of fact-checking Paul Ryan, our top 15 claims