Player of the Week: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been working for months on his fiscal 2013 budget, which will be used politically by both parties this election year.

The House Budget Committee chairman, who is scheduled to unveil his new budget blueprint on Tuesday, is known for his policy acumen.

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But Democrats gained the political upper hand last year by relentlessly attacking Ryan’s 2012 budget. They homed in on Ryan’s proposed Medicare reforms, and the issue helped Democrats win a special election in New York last May.

Ryan also proposed sweeping changes to other policy areas, including privatizing Fannie May and Freddie Mac, keeping discretionary spending at 2008 levels for five years and eradicating federal subsidies for high-speed rail.

Yet Medicare dominated the headlines, and Ryan struggled to fend off the salvos that came from both the left and the right. Former Speaker and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) initially called it “right-wing social engineering,” but then backtracked.

While congressional Democrats tried unsuccessfully to demonize Ryan, they claimed victory on the Medicare controversy and privately indicated it presented them a path back to the majority in the House.

Since then, Ryan and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have coalesced behind a new plan that would keep traditional Medicare as an option. Wyden’s embrace gives Republicans political cover.

Most Democrats remain unimpressed. The White House opposes it, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) likened it to “lipstick on a pig.”

Ryan this week is most concerned with the opinions of Republicans because most, if not all, Democrats will vote against his budget measure. In order to attract support at the committee level and on the House floor, Ryan and other GOP leaders have indicated they would endorse lower spending caps than were agreed to in last year’s bipartisan debt-ceiling agreement. 

Still reeling from the payroll tax debate and the long-stalled transportation bill, House Republicans need to pass a budget to regain political momentum. Ryan, a possible presidential running mate in 2012, will play a leading role in rounding up the votes.