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John Feehery: Paul Ryan’s victory

According to a Des Moines Register poll, Paul Ryan is Iowa’s favorite Republican.

As the influential newspaper put it: “Iowa Republicans are wowed by Paul Ryan, a new Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows. Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate is wildly popular here with a 73 percent favorability rating, a surprise finding that reveals he’s at the forefront of potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates in the nation’s kickoff voting state.”

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This survey was taken just as the House Budget Committee chairman was garnering positive attention for his work on the budget that was later passed by House Republicans. 

It turns out that getting stuff done is actually popular with the voters.

The Ryan budget agreement went over like a lead balloon among the professional right. Talk radio blasted it. Heritage Action condemned it even before the Wisconsin Republican had a chance to announce the details. And leading Senate presidential wannabes like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz promised to lead the fight against it. 

But to most voters out there, all of this vitriol aimed at the former vice presidential candidate is nonsense. 

The budget agreement didn’t raise taxes and didn’t touch Social Security or Medicare. It didn’t increase spending (much) and it slightly decreased the deficit. 

It didn’t call for any new sacrifices from the taxpayer, and it promises — if passed by the Senate — to keep the government open. 

And most importantly, when Paul Ryan stood next to his Senate Budget counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), to defend the agreement, they showed that divided government could work outside the confines of a self-induced crisis. 

This was a big moment for Ryan.

The test of leadership comes not by doing what your loudest supporters demand of you. The test of leadership comes by doing the right thing, no matter what those voices might say. 

It took some courage for Ryan to go on Mark Levin’s talk radio program to explain himself and his budget agreement. 

Levin predictably heaped abuse on Ryan during the show, calling his agreement “Mickey Mouse,” but the House Budget chairman held his ground and made his case.

Ryan wasn’t trying to convert the dogmatic radio host, but by standing firm, he showed that he could handle the heat in the hottest of kitchens. 

The Ryan agreement did several substantially important things for the House GOP conference. 

It took a government shutdown off the table for the rest of this election year. Government shutdowns have proven to be politically troublesome for the Republican Party, despite protestations to the contrary from conservative activists. Yes, when the government shuts down, the Republicans get blamed, and when they get blamed, they endanger the majority-makers in their conference. We would likely still be talking about the government shutdown had the ObamaCare rollout not been a complete disaster. 

It allows the Appropriations Committee to get to work. When the spending committees have the opportunity to deliver for their colleagues and their constituents, congressional ratings go up. But the Appropriators can’t do their work without a budget agreement that harmonizes spending levels between the House and Senate. The Ryan-Murray deal allows regular order to move forward, and that is good for the entire House Republican Conference. 

It didn’t raise taxes either — a significant victory over Senate Democrats, who demanded such a tax hike in any budget agreement. A tax increase would have hopelessly divided Republicans in an election year, energizing the base in a counterproductive and possibly catastrophic way. Ryan kept that land mine out of the agreement, and for that reason, he deserves the hearty applause of his colleagues. 

That is why so many of Ryan’s colleagues — 168 of them — voted for the deal. 

Senate Republicans who profess to dislike the agreement have their own individual reasons to oppose it, but it mostly boils down to the simple fact that they are in the minority and they don’t have the burden of governing. 

Leadership is all about going outside of your comfort zone and getting stuff done. Ryan did that, and that is one good reason why he vaulted to the top of Iowa poll. 

 

 

Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com.