Ryan steps up to shape a deal

Greg Nash

Paul Ryan is back in the spotlight.

The GOP 2012 vice presidential candidate came off the sidelines on the ninth day of the government shutdown with ideas on how to end the standoff.

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The wonky Wisconsin Republican lawmaker’s public reappearance could fill the glaring House GOP leadership void, given his stature with colleagues.

“There’s nobody in the caucus that commands the respect that Paul does,” one House Republican said of Ryan.

Yet the reentry also poses risks for a lawmaker many think could end up in the White House one day.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Ryan advocated “modest reforms” and subtly signaled that Republicans should pivot from ObamaCare by failing to mention it.

Later in the day, he talked up a two-part plan for raising the debt ceiling and reopening the government in a meeting with the conservative Republican Study Committee.

On Thursday, Ryan will head to the White House for a meeting with President Obama, along with 17 other House Republicans.

Ryan largely remained behind the scenes in the weeks leading up to the shutdown, but is stepping to the forefront as the debate over funding the government is eclipsed by the debt-ceiling fight.

The budget geek sees the debt limit as “his fight,” sources close to the House Budget Committee chairman tell The Hill. They say he wanted to save his political capital for this moment.

The Treasury Department has set an Oct. 17 deadline for Congress to raise the $16.7 trillion borrowing limit, warning it will not be able to pay all of the nation’s bills after that.

Financial markets are beginning to rattle. The Dow Jones industrial average has lost about 874 points since hitting a record high on Sept. 18, while the cost of short-term borrowing for the Treasury has increased.

Republicans have no clear plan for moving forward.

Ryan’s reemergence, just days out from the expiration of the current debt limit, evoked a collective sigh of relief among many of his colleagues.

Sophomore Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) said that Ryan provides clarity that can win over, or quiet, outspoken conservative activists. 

“The moderates trust him, they might not always like what he has to say but they trust him,” he said. “The conservatives trust him and they tend to like the direction he’s going — sometimes he’s maybe not quite as conservative, but they can understand when he explains his tactics and why.”

Ryan remains among his party’s brightest stars.

He’s seen as a possible GOP candidate for president in 2016, though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) have been in more headlines this year.

Just 43 years old, Ryan has the luxury of waiting until 2020 or 2024 if he chooses, and could also seek the path of congressional leader, or the gavel of the Ways and Means Committee.

His image could take a hit from the fight over the debt ceiling, particularly if he comes out of it looking less pure to grassroots conservatives.

Rubio encountered a similar problem earlier this year when he backed immigration reform in the Senate and saw his approval ratings drop with the right. He has since worked hard to shore up his right flank.

Some conservatives criticized Ryan for not mentioning changes to the healthcare law in his op-ed or during the meeting with conservative Republicans.

“There is one big word missing from this op-ed. It’s start with an O and ends with BAMACARE,” Cruz communications director Amanda Carpenter tweeted.

Cruz has become a de facto leader of Tea Party conservatives in the House, offering advice on strategy and building rebellions when he did not agree with the House leadership’s tactics. He has lashed out at any Republican who did not meet his own litmus test.

RSC members were more tempered in their remarks on Ryan’s plan following the closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol, and said they were happy to see Ryan take a public role.

“He’s definitely back,” an ecstatic freshman Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) told The Hill.

“Any deal we have [to raise the debt limit] is going to be written by [Ryan.] He’s got several drafts they’ve already been working on so it’s just a matter of which piece, once we get to the negotiating table,” Hudson said.

Ryan has backed GOP leaders before at critical times.

In January, he voted with Boehner to support the “fiscal cliff” deal that preserved Bush-era tax rates on most households, but raised tax rates on those with upper incomes.

With that vote, Ryan broke with fellow “Young Gun” lawmakers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Ryan said he supported the measure, in part, because he asked his colleagues to take the tough vote.

But he was in the minority in his party. Only 85 Republicans backed the fiscal-cliff deal, while 151 voted against it.

Ryan could soon find himself at a similar crossroads in the latest fiscal showdown.

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