Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Paul Ryan stays in a bubble

Speaker Paul Ryan.

AFP/Getty Images

Speaker Paul Ryan.

Only in Washington would Paul Ryan’s routine count as a show of work-family balance.

Here’s how the new Republican speaker of the House described his regular schedule to CNN: “So I live in Janesville, Wis. I commute back and forth every week. I just work here. I don’t live here. So I get up very early in the morning. I work out. I work ’til about 11:30 at night. I go to bed, and I do the same thing the next day.”

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When Ryan does go to bed, he sleeps on a cot in his office. He’s vowing to continue that practice in his newly elevated leadership role — but in his old digs. The smell of cigarette smoke still clings to the office quarters occupied by former Speaker John Boehner.

Overnighting on a cot may look like a commitment to career, constituents, and family back home. But it also breeds a serious case of Beltway bubble-itis. That’s a hazard for everyone who works in Washington. But with Ryan, the bubble is as claustrophobic as it gets. He’s toiling and sleeping in the same space. During the week, there’s no forced break from the hot, partisan air on Capitol Hill. On the weekends, he’s back in another bubble: in the district, with the kids.

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So far, there’s no acknowledgment of just how limiting that could be when it comes to understanding a world beyond his own.

Take Ryan’s insistence that he would only take the job of speaker if he could keep his weekend family time. Precious that is for everyone. Yet as other commentators have pointed out, Ryan values his family time, but won’t back paid family leave or subsidized child care.

Now that he’s speaker, Ryan shows no sign of broadening his outlook. As he also told CNN, “I don’t think that sticking up for being a person with balance in your life — for wanting to spend your weekends in your home with your family — I don’t think that means signing up for some new unfunded mandate.”

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Maybe if he got out of his office — and for that matter, out of Janesville, too — he might have a different perspective.

When it comes to demographics, Congress is a rarified world. More than half of those who serve have an average net worth of $1 million or more. Twenty percent are women, which means a whopping 80 percent are men. Only 17 percent are nonwhite. If Ryan just got out of his office and beyond the usual Beltway stomping grounds, he would be in a city where 49 percent of the residents are black, 10 percent are Latino, and 18 percent are living below the poverty line.

Ryan hails from relatively humble roots, as reported by The New York Times when Mitt Romney chose him as his running mate in 2012. But, mainly through his wife’s inheritance, the new speaker now has a net worth estimated at between just under $2 million and $8 million. His wife takes care of their three children. They live in a community of about 64,000. It’s about 92 percent white, and the median income is $49,020, according to US census figures.

D.C. for the week, Janesville for the weekends. That’s what Ryan calls a balanced life, and by Washington standards, it is.

To others, it also sounds like a bubble-to-bubble commute.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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