Paul Ryan: Big Tech regulation needed; future lawmakers must rein in Medicare, Medicaid

Outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday said he sees an expanded federal role for regulating big technology companies, but that Congress must proceed cautiously in doing so.

Ryan, R-Janesville, also touted new GOP laws to rewrite the tax code and boost military funding. But he said work remains, likely after he leaves office, to rein in health care programs for retirees and the poor.

Ryan’s remarks came at a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce event in Madison. They were his first in public in his home state since he revealed last week that he won’t seek re-election after two decades in Congress.

A U.S. Senate committee last week held a hearing to grill Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about data privacy for users, among other topics. Asked what the role of federal government is in online data privacy, Ryan said “there’s clearly a role,” without naming specific companies.

“People’s privacy rights are clearly being compromised — what do we do about it?” Ryan said. “We want to make sure that we get it right without stifling innovation.”

Ryan also said he isn’t sure what he’ll do after he leaves Congress and doesn’t know if he’ll endorse a candidate to succeed him.

Ryan did not take questions from reporters but fielded inquiries for about 45 minutes from a friendly crowd. He painted a rosy picture as his party heads into what’s expected to be a tough fight to retain control of the U.S. House in the fall midterms.

“We see a military that’s being rebuilt, an economy that’s growing,” Ryan said.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokeswoman Melanie Conklin said Ryan doesn’t understand how dissatisfied voters are.

“Speaker Paul Ryan still fails to understand that the work he sees as his legacy — gifting enormous tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent and giant corporations at the expense of working people and fighting to take health care away from millions of Americans — is precisely why his Republican Party is so unpopular right now,” Conklin said.

For the remainder of 2018, Ryan said he anticipates Congress tackling a rewrite of the Dodd-Frank financial law; the Senate passed a bill last month to ease regulations primarily for smaller banks. Also on tap, Ryan said, are infrastructure measures and a 2018 Farm Bill that would dramatically expand work requirements for food stamp recipients.

He also called for a bipartisan commission to address health care programs for the retired or poor, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Ryan said spending growth in those programs is by far the main concern in balancing future federal budgets.

Asked why, with total control of the federal government, Republicans have not done more to scale back spending or reduce the federal debt or deficits, Ryan said the Republican-controlled House has done its job to pass bills to scale back entitlement programs, but the Senate has not.

“Remember that?” Ryan said, mimicking U.S. Sen. John McCain’s “thumbs-down” gesture to vote against the Obamacare repeal bill that was narrowly defeated in the Senate last year. “That one move took the biggest opportunity we’ve ever had on fundamental entitlement reform and killed it by one vote.”

Ryan’s announcement about his future came months after enactment of one of his careerlong ambitions, overhauling the federal tax code, which passed in December. But his 2½-year tenure as speaker otherwise was marked by frustrations, legislative and political — and most recently, his uneasy relationship with President Donald Trump.

Ryan’s announcement set off scrambles to replace him as House Speaker — and for who will succeed him representing Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District.

Among the Republican candidates who have registered with the Federal Election Commission are Nick Polce, a Lake Geneva businessman and U.S. Army veteran, and Paul Nehlen, an alt-right social media provocateur who was banned from Twitter for making posts viewed as racist and anti-Semitic, and whom Ryan’s campaign criticized for “bigoted rhetoric.”

Bryan Steil, a Janesville attorney and University of Wisconsin System Regent, is considering a GOP bid and is scheduled to make an announcement Sunday about his plans.

Randy Bryce, a Caledonia ironworker and political activist, and Janesville teacher Cathy Myers are the Democratic candidates. State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, the former state Assembly minority leader, also has said he’s considering a run.

Applications engineer Kevin Adam Steen, a Republican, announced his candidacy on Thursday. Jeremy Ryan, a liberal known as a prominent protester in Madison who ran as a Republican against Ryan in 2014 but got only 6 percent of the vote, also registered with the state to run again as a Republican. Christopher Guerrero, of Waukesha, is also registered with the state to run as a Democrat.

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