By Russell Berman - 08/14/12 09:00 AM EDT
Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate draws his presidential campaign closer to Congress and the House Republican leadership, an association that could carry more risk than reward in the short term.
As a former executive and governor who had never served in Washington, Romney had run an outsider campaign and kept a healthy distance from a historically unpopular Congress. The presumptive GOP nominee did not support the 2011 debt-ceiling deal negotiated by his party’s congressional leadership (and which Ryan backed), and he did not immediately endorse the Ryan-authored budget plan that the House has passed two years in a row.
Romney is betting Ryan's network will help him in the White House.
Former GOP Rep. Mark Kennedy (Minn.) said that while Romney might benefit in the campaign by not being a Washington insider, "a key concern voters may have is, can he navigate Washington, once elected?"
"In that sense, Ryan's understanding of how Washington works is an advantage," said Kennedy, now a professor at George Washington University.
For the next three months, however, it is the Democrats who hope to exploit a political liability.
President Obama has been running against the House GOP for nearly a year, and he wasted little time in making the connection for voters.
On Monday, he used a campaign speech in Iowa to link Ryan to the House GOP’s failure to pass a long-term farm bill this year.
“Too many members of Congress are blocking the farm bill from becoming law,” Obama said at a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“Gov. Romney’s new running mate … he is one of the leaders of Congress standing in the way. If you see him, tell him how important it is … tell him to put politics aside when it comes to doing the right thing for rural America and for Iowa.”
While the Democratic-led Senate passed a farm bill with bipartisan support earlier this year, House leaders did not have the votes to pass their own version and kept it from coming to the floor before lawmakers left town for the August recess. Instead, House Republicans approved a smaller measure aimed at providing relief to farmers suffering from the drought across the country.
Aides to both Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hit back quickly at Obama, noting that Ryan supported the drought relief bill that the House passed.
“Paul Ryan hails from an agriculture state and supported disaster relief, and the truth is no one will work harder to defend farmers and ranchers than the Romney-Ryan ticket,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said. “After nearly four years of failure, it’s no wonder that Barack Obama returns to the state that launched his presidential campaign with nothing more than broken promises and false attacks.”
Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith put the blame on the Senate.
“The Democratic-controlled Senate left town for August without taking action on a drought aid bill that passed the House with bipartisan support, including the support of Chairman Ryan,” Smith said. “The weak attempt by the White House to manufacture a controversy illustrates the president’s desperation to change the subject to anything other than his failures on jobs and the economy.”
The farm bill attack is an early indication that the Obama campaign won’t limit itself to the Ryan budget in linking the Romney-Ryan ticket to congressional dysfunction. And drawing the Romney campaign off its message and into a Beltway blame game is a fight the Obama team would relish.
“By choosing Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney confirmed he’d be a rubber stamp for House Republicans who would rather play politics with America’s future than move the ball forward to grow our economy and create jobs," Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher told The Hill.
Romney chose Ryan over other vice presidential finalists who did not have the same close ties to Capitol Hill, including former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who has served in the Senate for less than two years. Another top contender, Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), is a veteran of the Washington establishment, but he is new to the Senate and not a member of the leadership.
Romney has touted Ryan as a governing partner, saying in an interview Sunday on “60 Minutes” that the Wisconsin Republican would “have a role in helping shepherd legislation on the Hill” as vice president. “This is one of the key reasons I've selected him,” Romney said. “He has that unusual, almost a unique capacity to find people of different parties who are of a common purpose that can come together to do something that's right for the country.”
While Ryan has earned praise on a personal level from Democrats, he is not known in Congress as a dealmaker. He served on the Simpson-Bowles debt commission but voted against its bipartisan proposal to reduce the deficit. He was not picked to participate in either of the two subsequent congressional panels that sought to forge a long-term fiscal agreement.
Yet Ryan’s ties to the Republican leadership could redound to Romney’s benefit if the two are elected. While many House conservatives have been cool to Romney and skeptical of his record, Ryan is admired by many freshmen and is especially close to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the two other members of the “Young Guns” triumvirate. And two of Boehner’s top aides, Brendan Buck and Michael Steel, have decamped to Ryan’s side for the remainder of the campaign.
While former governors and Washington outsiders have had more success in winning recent presidential elections, they have often done so with insiders at their side. Having served less than a single term in the Senate in 2008, Obama picked a man with more than three decades of congressional experience, Joseph Biden, as his running mate. And former Govs. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all selected men who had served in Congress to nominate as vice president.