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A.B. Stoddard: Paul Ryan’s ride

Leaders aren’t necessarily those we find in the highest office, or those who campaign for it, or those we see on television the most. True leaders make unpopular choices. They have the guts to take the heat for tough decisions but also to call out those who take easy cheap shots from the sidelines.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, 2012 vice presidential nominee, author of “The Roadmap” for fiscal solvency, chief doer among talkers, got slapped around this week for doing something. The bipartisan budget he helped draft, which would fund the government for two years, remove the threat of shutdowns and reduce the deficit without any new taxes, made him the latest punching bag Wednesday among Tea Party conservatives who deemed the deal a sellout.

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Ryan didn’t touch entitlement reforms or roll back the debt he has sworn in the past would soon create a permanent crisis, and the budget deal doesn’t resemble his “Roadmap” or previous budgets he’s drafted and the House has passed that would balance the budget in 10 years. But Ryan led, governed, compromised, kept the government running and took away the threat of shutdown, so the business community could have certainty, and the U.S. government could take a step back from becoming a laughing stock as well as a liability to the global economy. 

Clearly he did something wrong.

Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth all oppose the deal, along with Republicans in the running for president. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was the first out blasting the deal. Ryan responded Tuesday night on Greta Van Susteren’s show “On The Record” on Fox News Channel by calling Rubio a friend. “I don’t know that he’s seen the contents of it. I do expect some people may vote against it for their various political reasons,” he said. 

It wasn’t as if Ryan was surprised. When he voted a year ago for the “fiscal-cliff” deal to extend most of the Bush tax cuts, conservatives in the House opposed it in droves and criticized both Ryan and Speaker John Boehner for supporting it. When asked about criticism of Ryan’s new deal on Wednesday, Boehner (R-Ohio) accused critics from outside groups of “using our members and the American people for their own goals.” Boehner’s unprecedented outburst shows, after a shutdown the party never wanted, how much further GOP leaders are willing to push back against insurgent conservatives than they ever have been before.

“We’ve got to find a way to make divided government work,” said Ryan Wednesday, throwing a lit match at the smoldering Republican divide. With that, he might have constrained his political future — not only as a presidential prospect but even as a potential Speaker of the House, a position numerous Republican members hope he would aspire to in years to come. “In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan said. “That said, we can still make progress to our goals.”

As the chorus of complaints grows louder, Ryan believes he is making quiet progress toward conservative goals and that the deal he cut doesn’t require either side to “violate a core principle.” In 16 years in the House, the young Ryan has never stopped working toward fiscal solvency, even during years in the minority. In early 2010, when it became clear the GOP could take back the House that fall, Ryan told me: “I figure, try and be a Paul Revere on the fiscal situation. I might get knocked off my horse, but at least I’ll sleep well.”

Unlike a lot of would-be leaders in the GOP, Ryan should be getting some good sleep. 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.