By Bernie Becker - 08/12/12 10:00 AM EDT
House GOP lawmakers widely hailed Mitt Romney’s decision to select Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, saying he had found the best spokesman to challenge President Obama with their vision of how to boost the economy and slow down deficits.
Ryan’s colleagues say that he’s been doing it throughout Obama’s first term, taking on the president in high-profile encounters, and he won’t back down in the campaign.
Ryan, now the House Budget Committee chairman, and Obama sparred over the growth in domestic spending in January 2010, when the president appeared at a House GOP retreat in Baltimore.
And later in 2011, Ryan continued to slam Obama for not producing a “credible” plan for rein in spending and deficits, after the two parties engaged in a bruising battle over raising the debt ceiling.
All that, Republicans say, proves that Ryan is once again in an arena in which he can win. Romney's tapping of Ryan has led many to suggest that the campaign will now shift into a more substantive phase, with broad debates over tax, spending and economic policy.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), an early endorser of Romney’s and a prominent surrogate for the campaign, said GOP colleagues he’d spoken with were “thrilled” about the Ryan choice.
“To not only have somebody from the House, but to have somebody who can fight the good fight on the principles we believe in,” Chaffetz told The Hill on Saturday. “If you look at who should be president, Paul Ryan checks every box. He meets all the criteria you look for.”
Chaffetz said Romney’s vice presidential choice left him much more confident about Republicans’ chances in November.
“There are governors and those outside of Washington, D.C., I could’ve grown to like,” Chaffetz said. “But we already know Paul Ryan, and we like him. He’s the real deal.”
“Paul Ryan's history of standing up to President Obama has, in essence, put them on an equal playing field,” Brad Dayspring, a former top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), told The Hill Saturday.
“When you really watch the few times that the two men have gone toe-to-toe, you can tell that President Obama wants no part of engaging in a substantive debate with Paul Ryan.”
And in fact, Obama himself may have played a role in elevating Ryan during their 2010 encounter in Baltimore, when he said the then-ranking Republican had crafted a serious budget plan.
Still, it’s no secret that many Democrats are more than happy to have a full-fledged national discussion over Ryan’s budget ideas, which include partially privatizing Medicare by shifting some funding into subsidies for private insurance.
For its part, Romney’s campaign has indicated that it will attempt the delicate balance of applauding Ryan for his budget efforts, while also stressing that the former Massachusetts governor will unveil his own vision on deficits.
“This election is about values, and today Romney doubled down on his commitment to take our country back to the failed policies of the past,” Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said in a Saturday email to supporters.
Ryan has also been in Congress since the Clinton administration, and has an almost 14-year record of votes – including for the auto and bank bailouts and the debt-ceiling deal last year that paved the way for automatic defense cuts – that could also need some explaining on the campaign trail.
But while Ryan’s budget has found pockets of resistance within GOP circles on the Hill, most Republicans cite Ryan’s time in the limelight as a major plus.
In April 2011, Obama took Ryan’s budget to task, saying it would not only shift tax burdens from the rich to the middle-class, but would also threaten the health insurance of families with children with autism or Down’s syndrome.
“I believe it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic,” Obama said at a speech at George Washington University – with Ryan sitting mere feet away.
To Ryan, the suggestion that Republicans would give children with autism the cold shoulder was not only demagogic, but beneath the office of the presidency.
“It’s the laziest intellectual argument I’ve ever seen, which is it’s beyond a straw man argument, to affix motives and ideas to your political adversary that are just outlandish, and then just knock them down and win the argument by default,” the Budget chairman said in an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.
Ryan also delivered the GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union address in 2011, and took a leading role in the Republican pushback against the Democratic healthcare overhaul.
“I think the excitement stems from the fact that Ryan is very effective at articulating GOP solutions to the economy, our debt, and entitlements,” a House GOP leadership aide said Saturday. “He's taken the mantle that Jack Kemp once owned in our party and run with it.”
In addition to the debate over Medicare, Republicans and Democrats are jousting over whether to allow Bush-era tax rates for the highest earners to lapse at the end of the year and, more broadly, over whether fresh revenues should be used to rein in trillion-dollar deficits.
The two parties also have a difference of opinion over whether the U.S. can spend more – the Republicans’ term – or put more investments into – the Democrats’ phrase – areas like education and infrastructure.
“The choice is not one that assuages - it is one that invigorates,” a Republican aide said of Ryan.