Ramstad was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, was educated at the University of Minnesota and the George Washington University Law School. He was an officer in the United States Army Reserve from 1968 to 1974. He also worked as a private practice attorney and as a legislative aide to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Ramstad was Republican member of the Minnesota State Senate from 1981 to 1990 before entering the U.S. Congress. He served in the 102nd, 103rd, 104th, 105th, 106th, 107th, 108th, 109th, and 110th congresses, beginning on January 3, 1991. He first defeated former Minneapolis city councilman Lou DeMars in the 1990 election.
Ramstad was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1991 until 2009, representing Minnesota's 3rd congressional district, one of eight congressional districts in Minnesota. On September 17, 2007 Ramstad announced he would not seek reelection in 2008. He reiterated his statement on December 19, 2007.
Ramstad considered ending discrimination against those suffering from mental health and addiction problems a major part of his legacy, and worked under both Republican and Democratic majorities to pass a Mental Health Parity Bill. Mental Health Parity was eventually passed and signed into law in December, 2008.
Ramstad was mentioned as a possible candidate for Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the administration of President Barack Obama. However, the position eventually went to former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske.
Ramstad considered running for Governor of Minnesota in the 2010 election, but decided not to.
Ramstad is currently a resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics where he is leading a study group titled The Policy and Politics of Addiction.
Ramstad was a member of The Republican Main Street Partnership. He is pro-choice, supports embryonic stem cell research, and supports gay rights but is opposed to gay marriage. He voted in favor of an amendment to a whistleblower protection bill that would have allowed the government to influence stem-cell research.
He was considered to be the most moderate Republican member of the Minnesota delegation in the 109th Congress, scoring 68 percent conservative by a conservative group and 21% progressive by a liberal group. Minnesota Congressional Districts shows the scores for the entire delegation.
Ramstad has identified himself as a recovering alcoholic, having been sober since 1981. For a time, he was Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. Ramstad's sister, Sheryl Ramstad, is currently a Tax Court judge in Minnesota.
On February 25, 2008 it was announced that Ramstad had been elected to the board of directors of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
In 2010, Former Congressman Ramstad joined alliantgroup as a Senior Advisor on their Strategic Advisory Board.Ways and Means Committee
Subcommittee on Oversight (Ranking Member)
Subcommittee on Health
Co-chair of the Addiction Treatment and Recovery Caucus
Co-chair of the Disabilities Caucus
Co-chair of the Law Enforcement Caucus
Co-chair of the Medical Technology Caucus