March 20, 2023

DealBook Column: Paul Ryan and What Wall Street Should Know

Paul Ryan dislikes the Dodd-Frank Act's ability to safely dismantle failing banks, a provision Wall Street strongly favors.Ben Garvin for The New York TimesPaul Ryan dislikes the Dodd-Frank Act’s ability to safely dismantle failing banks, a provision Wall Street strongly favors.

He could be mistaken for a Wall Street banker. Or perhaps a hedge fund manager. Or even a managing director at a private equity firm, like Bain Capital.

Paul Ryan, with his clean-cut Brooks Brothers looks and wonky obsession with spreadsheets, could be just the archetype of a Wall Streeter.

Mitt Romney’s new running mate even trades stocks in his spare time. He’s a fan of the nation’s blue chips: among the stocks he owns are Apple, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, I.B.M., Procter Gamble, Wells Fargo, Google, McDonald’s, Nike and Berkshire Hathaway, according to his latest disclosure filing.

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Mr. Ryan is a disciple of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, two figures long associated with free markets.

And he has the support of some powerful backers in finance: his top donors include employees of Wells Fargo, UBS, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. For his 2012 Congressional race, he raised about $179,000 from securities professionals (not a large sum, but certainly the single largest sector that donated money to his campaign).

One of the biggest contributors to his political action committee is from Paul Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management. And Dan Senor, recently an investment adviser to Elliott Management, was just named Mr. Romney’s new adviser. But what does Mr. Ryan think about Wall Street? His views may surprise you.

Mr. Ryan, who voted in 1999 to repeal parts of the Glass-Steagall Act, allowing commercial and investment banks to merge, now appears to be in the same change-of-heart camp as Sandy Weill, the former chief executive of Citigroup, who recently declared that the banks should be broken up.

“We should make sure you can’t get too big where you’re going to become too big to fail and trigger a bailout,” Mr. Ryan said during a meeting with constituents in May in Wisconsin. “If you’re a bank and you want to operate like some nonbank entity like a hedge fund, then don’t be a bank. Don’t let banks use their customers’ money to do anything other than traditional banking.”

With a view like that, Mr. Ryan faces a challenge winning the support of the likes of Jamie Dimon, the chairman of JPMorgan Chase and a vocal supporter of the big bank model. (Mr. Dimon, a onetime supporter of President Obama, had recently been hinting he could vote for Mr. Romney, regularly calling himself “barely a Democrat.”)

Mr. Ryan is also an ardent critic of the Dodd-Frank Act, the postcrisis Wall Street legislation. But, oddly enough, the provision he dislikes the most is the one that has the greatest support of the industry: a tool known as resolution authority, which gives the government the authority to dismantle a failing bank without wreaking havoc on the rest of the system. It was a provision that was supported by the former Republican Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. “We would have loved to have something like this for Lehman Brothers. There’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Paulson told me two years ago. The provision was also supported almost universally by Wall Street as a way to end the “too big to fail” problem.

Mr. Ryan’s 2013 budget proposal sought to remove the resolution authority provision saying, “While the authors of the Dodd-Frank Act went to great lengths to denounce bailouts, this law only sustains them.”

It is worth noting that Mr. Ryan voted in favor of the bank bailout in 2008, known as TARP or Troubled Asset Relief Program. Ahead of the vote, he encouraged his colleagues in the House to vote in favor of it to avoid “this Wall Street problem infecting Main Street.”

He added: “This bill offends my principles, but I’m going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles, in order to preserve this free enterprise system. We’re in this moment and if we fail to do the right thing, heaven help us.”

While Mr. Ryan may appear to be a friend of business, he doesn’t agree with the industry’s biggest talking point these days, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. He was a member of the commission and voted it down, arguing that it did not go far enough in overhauling health care entitlements.

He later criticized President Obama for not supporting it. That prompted Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, to retort on CNN:

Paul Ryan, talking about walking away from a balanced plan like Bowles-Simpson is, I don’t know, somewhere between laughable and a new definition for chutzpah.”

Oddly enough, Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, praised Mr. Ryan’s proposed budget in a speech in 2011, saying, “I always thought that I was O.K. with arithmetic, but this guy can run circles around me.”

Mr. Ryan also bucked the conventional Wall Street wisdom on how to deal with the debt ceiling. Many investment managers are wringing their hands about the uncertainty that the debate over the “fiscal cliff” is creating for markets. Last year, three months before the debt ceiling debate reached a peak, Mr. Ryan said that he was prepared to let the government default on its debt for at least several days if it would force Democrats to accept deeper cuts.

“They all say, ‘Whatever you do, make sure you get real spending cuts,’ ” Mr. Ryan told CNBC about the way investors, including the hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, wanted him to vote. “Because you want to make sure that the bondholder has the confidence that the government’s going to be able to pay them. You’re putting the government in a better position to pay them.”

James Pethokoukis, a columnist for the American Enterprise Institute, which has traditionally supported Mr. Ryan, sent this Twitter message in April. “I hear what G.O.P. support there was for Obama/Bowles/Simpson debt panel plan is collapsing thanks to Ryan Plan.”

So while financiers may cheer Mr. Ryan’s pro-market policies, they may want to reassess just what those policies mean for their businesses.

A version of this article appeared in print on 08/14/2012, on page B1 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Everything Wall St. Should Know About Ryan.

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