New GOP heavyweight takes a few political punches from Dems

New GOP heavyweight takes a few political punches from Dems

Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (Wis.) is taking his first big political punches from Democrats, a sign that the rising GOP star has graduated to the heavyweight division.

The 40-year-old Ryan, with barely a speck of gray in his jet-black hair, has emerged as a talking point for President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation MORE and a potential presidential contender for Republicans. His plan to balance the federal budget with a mix of proposals to partially privatize Medicare and Social Security has become Democrats’ piñata.

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By attacking Ryan, Democrats can rally support for healthcare reform and neutralize a lawmaker whose name appears on GOP shortlists for 2012 and 2016.

While Democrats are swinging, Republican leaders are backing away and letting Ryan take the hits.

“It wasn’t my intention to be thrust in the middle of all of this,” Ryan said in a sit-down interview with The Hill. “Now that they’re trying to elevate it, fine. It gives me a better platform to bring this debate to the American people.”

The attacks have raised the profile of the young congressman, already in his sixth House term and now the ranking member on the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. With the attention has come increased scrutiny, which insiders expect him to face for years to come, either in the House or a higher office.

“If you name Republicans and Democrats in the House and ask me to put a Top 10 list of members who are the smartest, most effective leaders, Ryan is in that Top 10,” said Tom Davis, the former Virginia House member and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman.

All the attention hasn’t yet translated into broad GOP support for his plan. Democrats, from Obama on down, have held up Ryan’s proposals, which also include spending caps, a simplified income tax code and lower corporate taxes, as a guide to what Republicans would do if they controlled Washington.

Obama called it a “serious proposal” when he addressed Republicans in Baltimore earlier this year. But he also made clear he doesn’t agree with Ryan’s plans for Medicare.

“I’ve read it, I can tell you what’s in it, and there are some ideas in there that I would agree with, but there are some ideas that we should have a healthy debate about because I don’t agree with them,” Obama said.

When pressed on the matter, House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE (R-Ohio) distanced himself from Ryan’s plan, saying it wasn’t the official GOP platform.

“It’s his,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE said.

Ryan has 11 co-sponsors, all archconservative Republicans, such as Reps. Tom Price (Ga.) and Jeb Hensarling (Texas).

He’s not surprised GOP leaders haven’t signed on after seeing Democrats go after it.

“The reason I did this was to try and stir debate and encourage others to do this as well,” he said. “What I’m finding is that’s probably not going to happen because of all the demagoguery ... It tells them, ‘Don’t stick your head above the foxhole or else you’ll got shot.’ ”

While Ryan says he wasn’t expecting the barrage, he hasn’t shied away from the firing line. He visited New Hampshire two weeks ago, just days before he sparred with Obama during the White House healthcare summit. He’s already a regular on CNBC and cable news networks.

Others have taken notice. The late conservative columnist Robert Novak floated Ryan as a dark-horse vice presidential candidate for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2008. Sarah Palin, when asked on Fox News last month to handicap the 2012 GOP presidential field, started with Ryan, saying she was “very impressed” with him.

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When asked about a 2012 campaign, Ryan said, “God, no.” He said any suggestion about a vice presidential nomination is “such a hypothetical thing, I don’t even send my mind there.”

Ryan’s next act is unlikely to be on the other side of the Capitol. He told The Hill that he considered a challenge to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) this year, but ultimately decided he could have more impact at the fore of the House Budget Committee, especially if Republicans win back the House.

He said he would serve on the bipartisan debt commission created by the White House, despite his own reservations about the creation of the commission, noting that it is “the only game in town” when it comes to seeking a plan to rein in the $12.4 trillion debt.

And while he’s feeling the heat from the other side of the aisle, he confesses to having great respect for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

When it comes to extending the solvency of Social Security, he said the two lawmakers agree on pegging the retirement age to lifespan and benefit levels to income.

“Look, I have a lot of respect for Steny,” Ryan said. “I think he’s serious about this. ... Where we probably would have a disagreement is probably on taxes. My point is we shouldn’t try taxing our way out of this.”

Hoyer, for his part, said Ryan deserves respect for putting forward serious proposals, even ones he disagrees with.

“I admire him for the political courage he has shown in taking seriously the reality of our country’s fiscal situation,” Hoyer said. “However, we have significant disagreements on the substance of what he proposes. While I agree that we can’t tax our way out of the problem, it is not sustainable to close the gap solely by cutting spending on entitlement programs.”

Praise like that from the other party will only last so long. Ryan said he’s not sure why Democrats are focusing on him or whether they see him as a long-term threat, and he professes not to care.

“I think you should treat every term as your last,” he said. “If you see a problem that is screaming [for] a fix, you owe it to yourself to do something about it.”