Peter Cosgrove, File, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Paul Ryan's mentors have included some of the biggest conservative names of recent decades, among them Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett.
Yet the ideological roots of Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, including his emphasis on individual responsibility and small government, sprouted from Ryan's small-town Wisconsin upbringing and a libertarian college professor. His outlook and career also have been nurtured by a devotee of supply-side economics who is now a top aide to another rising Republican star, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Ryan put his philosophy on display in the fiscal blueprint he pushed through the House this year as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Democrats described it as harsh and made it a favorite campaign target long before Ryan joined Romney's ticket.
Ryan's plan reduces tax rates, slices deeply into benefits for the poor like Medicaid, reshapes Medicare and forces major cuts in basic government functions while boosting defense spending. He does it, in part, in the name of taming mammoth federal deficits, though critics note that his plan would leave sizable annual shortfalls for decades.
"Limited government also means effective government," his budget documents state, summarizing a Ryan tenet.
In his 2009 commencement address at his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, Ryan said liberty requires economic as much as political freedom. He also said people should rely on themselves to achieve their potential and government should not erect hurdles for risk-taking entrepreneurs.
Ryan consults with a stable of conservative economists and scholars, including John Taylor, a Stanford University economist who has had posts in three GOP administrations. He has long praised the works of Ayn Rand, the Russian-born writer who strenuously championed an unfettered capitalism hinged to individual rights and responsibility, but in recent days has distanced himself from her, citing her atheism.
Ryan, 42, said this week that Kemp, the late Republican congressman from New York and exuberant champion of cutting taxes to spark economic growth, "was one of the most important mentors to me." Mirroring Kemp's ideals, Ryan's budget would pare income tax rates in what budget documents call "pro-growth tax reform."
Kemp was his party's vice presidential nominee in 1996, when he and presidential candidate Bob Dole lost to President Bill Clinton. In the 1970s and 1980s, Kemp was a conservative leader and one of Congress' most dynamic members, relentlessly advocating tax cuts that remain a hallmark GOP goal.
After an 18-year career in the House, Kemp was a leader of Empower America, a conservative advocacy organization he helped found in 1993. A year out of college, Ryan went to work there, writing speeches and doing research for Kemp and engaging in long policy discussions with him.
"I was struck that he was so young, and my dad had him working on policy," Judith Nolan, Kemp's daughter, who also worked there, said of Ryan. "He certainly put a lot of trust in him."
"He was primarily interested in economic policy," said Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman and the group's president. "We all thought he was one of the brightest young guys around there."
Ryan's relationship with Kemp lasted well after both men left the group. They spoke regularly, said Kemp's son Jimmy, who runs the Jack Kemp Foundation.
Jack Kemp, who died in 2009, let Ryan accompany him on his plane during the 1996 presidential campaign and campaigned for Ryan in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., two years later when Ryan was first elected to Congress, Jimmy Kemp said. Jack Kemp's granddaughter later interned in Ryan's congressional office.
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