Rep. Paul Ryan: From GOP vice presidential candidate to fiscal deal maker

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - 8:14pm

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, fiscal deal maker?

That's the latest incarnation the congressman from Wisconsin, who has gone from the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate to the party's fiscal wonk as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Ryan was one-half of the bipartisan duo that unveiled a budget deal that would set spending levels and relieve arbitrary forced spending cuts scheduled to hit early next year, according to the agreement announced Tuesday -- just days before a deadline to settle the matter.

"This agreement makes sure that we don't have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure we don't have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don't lurch from crisis to crisis," Ryan said.

The move has put the national spotlight squarely back on the congressman for the first time since the GOP presidential loss.

Ryan had remained largely silent while Republicans and Democrats battled in October over a federal shutdown and how to move forward on a government funding bill.

His reticence was more noticeable because the prominent fiscal matters front and center now highlight his area of expertise. He is known in Congress as the budget wonk, the expert on the federal government and spending. His colleagues look to him for guidance.

In recent years, he unveiled controversial budget blueprints that dramatically cut spending and altered entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. His budgets, titled "Path to Prosperity," became the defining documents for Republican fiscal policy.

The budget deal does not directly address Social Security or Medicare.

If Congress approves the deal, the fight would most likely return to President Barack Obama's health care law.

Silence shattered

While Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were at odds in October over the shutdown and the debt ceiling, and while House Republicans were involved in infighting, Ryan broke his months-long silence with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

In the piece, Ryan put forward a new path -- how to break the crippling stalemate in Washington with ideas that even some Democrats support. He did not emerge unscathed.

Ryan took a measured tone in the op-ed. He blamed Obama for not being willing to negotiate but he implored both sides both sides to sit down at the negotiating table.

His idea: his old idea. He proposed "commonsense reforms of the country's entitlement programs."

If his strategy has been to speak little but make a big impact, Ryan definitely made an impact Tuesday with news of a bipartisan budget deal.

2016 ambitions?

Ultimately, his timely emergence could be part of a larger plot. As a young politician with a bright future, speculation is rampant that he might be running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

That speculation only grew louder with trips in recent months to Iowa and New Hampshire, the first presidential nominating states.

He gave the keynote at a birthday fund-raiser for Iowa's Republican governor, Terry Branstad, and attended a fund-raising breakfast for a congressional candidate in New Hampshire.

The dilemma

Twenty years ago, Ryan worked for the conservative organization Empower America, which later became FreedomWorks. Since then, the organization has successfully morphed from a group that promoted traditional fiscal conservatism and neoconservative foreign policies into a limited government tea party aligned group. Is Paul Ryan an Empower America Republican? Or a FreedomWorks Republican?

That is Ryan's dilemma. It's the same scenario that is plaguing the Republican Party and dictating the current debate in Washington.

Republican strategist and former Mitt Romney spokesman Ryan Williams has said Ryan's op-ed shows that he's "the adult in the room."

"He felt that it was important for him to speak up to address the seemingly never-ending stalemate that we're witnessing in Washington," Williams added.


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