Paul Ryan

Olivier Douliery, MCT

Ryan, back on Capitol Hill, will help lead budget talks

  • New York Times
  • November 18, 2012 - 9:21 PM

WASHINGTON - Gone are the private jet and the motorcade. His security staff has been reduced to a few Capitol Police officers, soon to fade away.

But while the trappings of the national campaign are behind him, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., now finds himself at the center of one of the biggest fiscal negotiations in a generation.

Speaker John Boehner has tapped House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan to help strike a deal to avoid big tax hikes and spending cuts by year's end.

"He helps us toward creating a product," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, "and he helps sell the product."

The test will be whether Ryan can make the transition from House budget philosopher to governing heavyweight who can help negotiate a bipartisan deal and sell it to his colleagues.

While President Obama and the Democrats are expected to give ground on entitlements and discretionary spending, it is likely that Ryan will be the player under the most pressure to back away from his previous conservative positions in order to form a bipartisan deal.

Ryan, who declined to be interviewed, was largely silent during the campaign about his call for changes to the Medicare system and for vast cuts to government services, as outlined in his House budget. But his distaste for Obama's fiscal positions was unambiguous. At the GOP convention, for example, he called the Obama administration's economic vision "a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us."

Ryan could conceivably scuttle any deal if he loudly opposes a solution that the speaker and the top Republican leaders embrace. But his conservative base might rebel if he were to endorse any deal seen as awarding too much to Obama and the Democrats, particularly on tax rates. Some Republicans think the pitfalls are dangerous enough that Ryan might consider leaving Congress altogether to work on his policy agenda.

"He has to think about what he wants his role to be," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "Is he going to run in 2016, or run for something else in Wisconsin, or play a bigger role in the House? He's going to play an outsize role here because of the national profile he now has, but on the other hand, this conference is quite happy to act independently."

Not all Republicans are charmed by Ryan. He has engendered some exasperation among appropriators and other members forced to apply his stringent budget numbers to their spending bills. Further, in the first test of his post-election influence, Ryan aggressively supported two conservative candidates for House leadership roles who failed in their bids.

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