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As Paul Ryan leaves Congress, a look at his record on the Truth-O-Meter
By D.L. Davis December 19, 2018

For one bright moment in history, Wisconsin was front and center on the national political stage, boasting a triple-header of Republican stars.

There was Gov. Scott Walker, who gained national stature with a presidential run, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee and later President Donald Trump’s first chief of staff and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R.-Wis., who was Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential running mate and Speaker of the U.S. House.

The trio was considered the vanguard of the "Cheesehead Revolution" the GOP’s stunning conquest of Wisconsin. But the big cheese brigade has curdled.

Priebus returned to private practice as president and chief strategist at Michael Best and Friedrich LLP after being ousted from his White House position and is now on track to join the Navy Reserve, Walker was defeated in his bid for a third term by Democrat Tony Evers and Ryan has announced that he will not seek re-election.

As Ryan takes leave of the national political stage, we decided to take a look back at his tenure. In all, he has been fact-checked 75 times on the Truth-O-Meter. The tally:

True: 12 percent

Mostly True: 19 percent

Half True: 28 percent

Mostly False: 27 percent

False: 8 percent

Pants on Fire: 6 percent

Here is a closer look at some of the claims and ratings:

May 2, 2018: Ryan says that on the tax reform law, Democratic leaders "are promising to take it all away."

Democratic leaders in Congress were harshly critical of the law, and talked about the need to repeal or at least review most of it. But the tax reform law also provided tax benefits to the middle class, which Democratic leaders indicated they want to keep.

Our rating: Half True.

Feb. 22, 2018: Responding to the Florida school shooting, in which the confessed shooter has some history of mental health problems, Ryan said we "have laws on the books designed to prevent people with mental illnesses from getting firearms."

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.

Our rating: Half True.

Dec. 13, 2017:  Ryan said the 1986 tax reform approved under Ronald Reagan "was polling at about 18 percent right before they passed it."

Two national polls, taken at roughly the stage of where the current tax reform effort was at the time, showed 22 percent favored the legislation. That was close to Ryan’s 18 percent claim. But two other polls showed approval of the bill at or near 40 percent.

Moreover, the disapproval rates in polls on the tax reform bill at hand were much higher than they were in the 1986 polls.

Our rating: Half True.

Nov. 3, 2017: Ryan said, "With this plan, the typical family of four will save $1,182 a year on their taxes."

The figure was based on a plausible and transparent calculation, but Ryan glossed over some context. The calculation doesn’t factor in several itemized deductions that would disappear under the proposal and that could have a significant impact on at least some "typical" families around that income level.

And Ryan’s statement is misleading when he says the family will save "$1,182 a year," since that’s the case in the first year only; after that, the benefit starts to shrink and eventually turns into a tax hike.

Our rating: Half True.

May 11, 2017:  Saying the military was plunged into a readiness crisis under Barack Obama, Ryan claimed: "We got to a point that our Air Force pilots were going to museums to find spare parts over the last eight years."

Ryan made 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 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 President Barack Obama, the Air Force had sufficient funding to prevent the need for pilots to hunt for airplane parts in museums.

Our rating: Pants on Fire.

May 6, 2016: On supporting the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

This Flip-O-Meter rating came during the 2018 presidential campaign and was a harbinger for the sometimes-rocky relationship between Ryan and now-President Donald Trump.

At the time, Ryan had said repeatedly he would support for president whomever wins the Republican nomination. He said so even when asked specifically about Trump being the nominee. But in his first comments after Trump became the presumptive nominee, Ryan wavered. 

For pledging to support the GOP nominee and then withholding that support, at least for a period, we gave Ryan a Half Flip.

Feb. 13, 2013: On his definition of "takers" and "makers."

In the 2012 presidential campaign and for years before that, Paul Ryan warned that a culture of European-style dependency on government programs had created as many "takers" as "makers" in American society -- or even a majority of "takers." So, what about those "takers" and "makers"?

When Obama in his second inaugural address proclaimed that Social Security and Medicare strengthen America rather than make it a "nation of takers," many saw it as a swipe at Ryan. Ryan blasted Obama’s words as misleading.

Republicans, he said, had not meant to include elderly recipients of Social Security and Medicare as "takers." Those folks, Ryan said, helped earn their retirement benefits through payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks specifically for those programs.

We found no record of Ryan prior to the election spelling out, program by program, which federal benefits would cause him to view a recipient as a "taker." Rather, he took an all-in approach.

Ryan labeled all recipients of federal benefits that way, elevating numbers buried in a think-tank report to the statistical centerpiece of his budget-cutting message over a period of years.

In our view, by distancing himself from his prior, broad denunciation of "takers" in connection with all federal benefits, Ryan’s post-election approach had changed dramatically.

Our rating: Full Flop.

Oct. 15, 2012: Ryan said that six studies verify that the numbers in the Mitt Romney tax plan added up.

Hearing that claim, votes might have thought that each is independent research.

But not all studies are created equal and these came from people or groups with ties to Romney. We only found one fully independent study out of the six claimed.

Our rating: Mostly False.

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Our Sources

PolitiFact The principles of the Truth-O-Meter: PolitiFact’s methodology for independent fact-checking

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Remember GOP’s Cheesehead Revolution? As Ryan leaves, Wisconsin’s national influence wanes," April 13, 2018.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Reince Priebus, former Wisconsin GOP leader, out as White House chief of staff," July 28, 2017. "Reince Priebus"

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "The Scott Walker era of GOP dominance in Wisconsin ends with the election of Tony Evers amid massive midterm turnout." Nov. 7, 2018.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Paul Ryan, capping meteoric career touched by frustration, won’t seek re-election," April 11, 2018.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus to join Naval Reserve," Dec. 15, 2018.

PolitiFact as noted

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As Paul Ryan leaves Congress, a look at his record on the Truth-O-Meter