Rep. Van Hollen has mixed feelings on Budget Committee rival Ryan as VP pick

Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) friend and Democratic counterpart on the House Budget Committee has mixed feelings about the Wisconsin lawmaker being named as Mitt Romney’s running mate.

“I like Paul, we get along well,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, told The Hill following the announcement Saturday.

But, Van Hollen added, Ryan’s economic policies push a “lopsided” economic approach that will further benefit the wealthy and leave the middle class holding the bag.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Romney’s choice shows he’s doubling down on an economic agenda that benefits people like Mitt Romney at the expense of everybody else and the rest of the country,” said the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and member of last year’s Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

Van Hollen's remark echoed the main Democratic attack line against Ryan and his budget plan.

Ryan put forth his "Path to Prosperity" budget in April 2011. It proposes increasing tax revenue by $37 trillion by lowering tax rates and eliminating tax breaks.

“The Republican budget, the Ryan-Romney match-up, is an uncompromising assault on middle-class taxpayers,” Van Hollen said. It “provide[s] tax breaks for the very wealthy at the expense of seniors on Medicare, at the expense of investing in our kids' education and economic growth, and at the expense of middle-class taxpayers.”

Van Hollen noted that he and Ryan have had a politically adversarial relationship, frequently butting heads over economic policy, but they have remained friendly and strived for civil discourse on the issues.

“He’s passionate about the perspective he brings,” he said. “That’s why this will excite the right wing of the Republican Party. [But] I think it will have the opposite effect on independent, centrist voters.”

In June both lawmakers talked to The Hill about their efforts to work together. Ryan said the two shared a long dinner at Bistro Bis, a French restaurant on Capitol Hill, where they pledged to try to stifle hostilities on the committee.

On Saturday, Van Hollen, while careful only to criticize Ryan's policies, noted the pick was an appeal to the base of the party.

“This [VP selection] is throwing a bone to the right wing of the Republican Party,” he said. “This choice tells independent voters to get lost. They’re going with a more ideological brand of right-wing Republicanism.”

This could in turn open the door wide for President Obama come November.

“I think it will strengthen the arguments for the president and for Democratic candidates, especially with respect to centrist, independent voters,” he said.

“When the American people focus on the economic agenda, they won’t like what they see,” Van Hollen concluded. “It is essentially a souped-up version of the trickle down [President George W.] Bush plan that crashed the economy and resulted in millions of people losing their jobs. The only thing that went up as a result of that plan was the deficit, which ballooned. So I don’t think people need to re-run that movie; been there, done that.”

That doesn’t mean Van Hollen won’t reach out to Ryan to congratulate him on Saturday’s announcement, though.

“I plan to do so,” he said. “It’s a sign of the confidence Romney has in him, and we will continue the very sharp but focused debates we’ve had in the Budget Committee.”

— Russell Berman contributed to this report.