It’s showdown time for Rep. Paul Ryan and President Obama.

House Republicans officially named Ryan chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, giving the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee his most direct power yet over the country’s tax system and entitlement programs.

{mosads}Ryan’s elevation to his self-described dream job puts the current Budget Committee chairman on a collision course with Obama, who ripped the Wisconsin Republican’s budget in a 2011 speech as Ryan looked on from the audience.

With the tax-writing gavel in hand, Ryan, who has said he is considering a 2016 presidential bid, signaled broad ambitions to revamp the tax code, fortify Medicare and Social Security, expand trade opportunities, boost oversight of the Internal Revenue Service and scrap and replace Obama’s healthcare law.

Lawmakers, aides and outside analysts think that Ryan’s star power and influence in the House GOP will bring even more attention to the fiscal flashpoints between Republicans and Democrats.

Former House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said that Ryan’s experience on a national ticket two years ago has given him “a reservoir of good will” in his party.

“He has some cards to play that I didn’t and others didn’t,” said Thomas, who was chairman when Ryan joined the committee in 2001. Even back then, Thomas said he thought the Wisconsin Republican had his eye on the top spot on the panel.

But as he sets up his big-picture vision for 2015, Ryan also faces a host of obstacles — not least that the fight over Obama’s executive action on immigration threatens to burn what bridges remain between the president and the GOP.

Seeking to prove that the Republican Party can govern, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have talked up pursuing more modest policy goals, such as repealing ObamaCare’s medical device tax and approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed an interest in revamping the tax code, but most observers on and off Capitol Hill see little chance for an overhaul while Obama is in the White House. The current Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), released a tax reform discussion draft in February, only to have it shunned by lawmakers and eviscerated by business groups.

Obama has floated some changes to entitlement programs in the past, including changing the way that cost-of-living increases are indexed for Social Security recipients, but Republicans say he has never really been willing to deal on entitlements.

Democrats counter that the GOP never took the White House up on its offer to exchange spending cuts for more government revenue during talks in the summer of 2011.

On top of that, in addition to facing a Democratic president for at least the next two years, Ryan is facing a stack of deadlines that have piled up for 2015.

The Ways and Means Committee will likely have to involve itself in a debt-ceiling hike next year, which has been a tough vote for Republicans, as well as the expiration of the Medicare “doc fix” and highway funding. Looking ahead to 2016, Social Security’s disability trust fund is supposed to exhaust its reserves in around two years.

“I think Paul has a pretty realistic view of where he’d want to take the committee,” said Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (La.), a Republican member of Ways and Means.

Ryan’s fiscal blueprints from his time as House Budget chairman offer a wealth of options for legislative action. Over the last four years, the Wisconsin Republican has proposed sweeping overhauls of entitlement programs, including partially privatizing Medicare through a premium support plan and both cutting Medicaid and giving more power over the program to states.

But Ryan is already starting to get conflicting advice from Republicans about how he should proceed in his new role.

Conservatives have urged Ryan and GOP leaders in both chambers to put the pressure on Obama by trying to turn some of the more controversial parts of his budget, such as changes to entitlement programs, into law.

“Call his bluff,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) said of Obama.

“I think that you have the ability by moving legislation through to educate the American people that we’re on a failing path,” said Mike Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action, which had pushed the GOP to take the stand on ObamaCare funding that led to last year’s government shutdown.  

“Maybe it doesn’t get signed into law by this president. That’s the reason we need a new president,” Needham said.

Bill Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center, who worked with Ryan as a Senate staffer, said he thought Ryan might concentrate on streamlining federal anti-poverty programs without cutting their funding, as the GOP works to broaden its appeal ahead of the 2016 election.

“I think he might be able to find more common ground and bipartisanship there than one might have thought,” Hoagland said.

Still others, like Thomas and the anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, said that Ryan should continue to lay out his broader principles but concentrate on moving narrower pieces of legislation as Republicans try to wrest back control of the White House in 2016.

“Politics is about the bifocal vision,” Norquist told The Hill. “What can we pass that the president might sign?”

Thomas agreed, adding that taking over Ways and Means would be a sobering move for the 44-year-old lawmaker. Passing a budget that overhauls major programs is one thing, Thomas said, but turning those proposals into law is another.

“We were dealing with a guy who understood geometry, because he was triangulating all the time,” Thomas said about former President Clinton after the GOP took over Congress in 1994. “I don’t think Obama’s the same way.”

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