Ryan’s first foray into the working world was at a McDonalds while in high school. The death of his father in 1986, when he was only 16, compelled him to seek additional income for the family. A year later, he worked as a camp counselor at Camp Manito-wish YMCA in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, during the summer break.
While studying at Miami University, Ohio, Ryan worked as a processed meat salesman in an Oscar Mayer supermarket. In his third year at Miami University, his economics professor, Dr. Rich Hart, arranged a summer internship in the office of Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten.
It proved to be the catalyst for Ryan’s entry into the world of politics, and more importantly, it was here that he met the former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Jack Kemp. Despite their age difference, the two men hit it off and developed an instant connection. Kemp became his mentor; Ryan, his protégé.
After graduating in 1992, Ryan accepted an offer to join Senator Kasten’s office as a staff economist. However, Kasten’s defeat in his 1992 reelection ended his tenure there. Ryan, at the urging of Kemp, joined the Koch-brothers funded Empower America (now FreedomWorks), a non-profit conservative group based in Washington D.C., as a speechwriter.
It was a demanding position for the young graduate, and as a non-profit organization, the compensation was rather low – more so in D.C. To supplement his income, Ryan first moonlighted as a waiter at the Tortilla Coast restaurant in First Street before becoming a fitness instructor at the Washington Sport and Health Club.
He returned home in 1994 to work in his family’s construction business, Ryan Inc. Central, as a marketing consultant. However, the lure of politics proved to be too strong.
He returned to Washington in 1996 to work for his old mentor, Jack Kemp, who at the time was the running mate for the GOP presidential nominee, Senator Bob Dole. Despite being officially employed as a speechwriter, Ryan became the de facto economic advisor to Kemp. Although Dole was defeated in the hands of former president Bill Clinton, Kemp retained the services of Ryan.
Kemp, who was one of the strongest advocates of supply-side economics in Washington and the GOP, shared the same fundamental ideological belief in fiscal conservatism with Ryan, and their relationship flourished. Professor Hart, in an interview with the New York Times, believed that Ryan “sort of viewed Jack Kemp as something of a second father.”
Kemp’s daughter, Judith, concurred with the opinion. “He (Kemp) definitely treated him like a son and would put his arm around him and introduce him and say, ‘Here’s the future of our party. ”
However, as Kemp’s political career winded down, Ryan returned once again to Janesville, Wisconsin, to work in the family business. But Ryan was a man with a plan, and his return to Wisconsin signaled his final step before making an official entry into politics.
In 1998, as a 28-year old, Ryan shocked the district and state by not only running for the Wisconsin 1st District House seat vacated by two-term incumbent Mark Neumann, but by actually winning the election. In fact, he thrashed his Democratic opponent Lydia Spottswood by 14 points (57% - 43%) to secure his seat in Congress – the second youngest member of the House. Ryan has won six consecutive reelections since then, but his victory in 1998 turned out to be the least decisive.
In an interview with Time Magazine last year, Ryan revealed an advice he received from Democratic Representative from Massachusetts, Barney Frank, during his early days in Congress: “the way to have an impact in Congress is to "be a specialist, not a generalist."
And thus, Ryan zoomed in on his passion - economics. Fourteen years on, Ryan now sits firmly in the upper echelons of the Republican Party leadership. As the current chair of the House Budget Committee, he is also the leader of the party’s fiscal policy. Some even argue that Ryan is the de facto Congressional leader of the party. A recent New York Times report appears to corroborate this. The report suggests that during last year’s debt ceiling discussion between President Barack Obama and the Republican Congressional leadership (House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor and Speaker of House rep. John Boehner) fell through after Rep. Cantor disclosed that Mr. Ryan disliked the bipartisan policy co-authored by the two parties.