With a nearly 17-year-career in Congress highlighted by his groundbreaking plans for slashing government spending , revamping major entitlement programs and derailing Obamacare, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would seem like an ideal choice of conservatives to be the next House Speaker.
A gifted conservative policy maker who has chaired both the House Budget and Ways and Means Committees, and was the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee, the 45-year-old Ryan would bring a combination of strategic thinking and deal-making skills to the job that few others could match.
“I think he checks every box,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the conservative leader of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who has expressed interest in the speakership himself. “He’s got the great experience, he’s a visionary, he understands the institution. He’s a great spokesperson.”
“And one of the things that people love about him is that he puts his family first,” Chaffetz added during an appearance today on ABC’s “This Week” program.
One of Ryan’s crowning achievements was a two-year bipartisan budget deal that he and then-Democratic Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray negotiated in late December 2013 following a 16-day government shutdown. Ironically, it is probably one of the reasons Ryan may not pass muster with many of the 40 Freedom Caucus conservatives who forced Boehner to retire and then last Thursday toppled heir apparent, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
The Ryan-Murray agreement secured a two-year truce in the longstanding budgetary warfare between Republicans and Democrat. It was a rare example of a form of legislative stagecraft that was once the norm on Capitol Hill but has fallen into disfavor with many Republican conservatives who prefer confrontation and brinksmanship to compromise and give and take.
Already, some conservatives are taking pot shots at Ryan for compromising GOP principles and hard-earned gains in negotiating the budget deal with Murray. Others reportedly are complaining that Ryan had the audacity that same year to predict publicly that the House would eventually pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants – which was heresy among many Republicans.
All eyes are on Ryan this weekend as he confers back home with his wife and political advisers on whether he should enter the race for Speaker, despite near unanimity among analysts that it may be the worst political job in town because of the unruly majority. The topic of Ryan’s dilemma dominated the Sunday talk shows, with many arguing that Ryan offers the House Republicans their best chance of salvation from political chaos and public ridicule heading into months of crucial budget and legislative negotiations.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump told CBS’s Face the Nation that he would be “okay” with Ryan as the next speaker although, “I think he doesn’t want it very badly.” Rep. Jim Jordan, head of the Freedom Caucus, told Fox News Sunday that some of his members “would look favorably” on Ryan -- provided he is willing to embrace reforms that would diminish the leadership’s powers and strengthen the hand of rank and file members.
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) – who was forced out of office by rebellious members of his own party years ago, cautioned Ryan about seeking the speakership, even if it appears he can easily attract the 218 GOP members needed for election as speaker.
“I think Paul should be very cautious,” Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday. “He is the most prestigious member of the House on the Republican side and he has the best future. He’s still very young. It’s easy to get 218 on the first vote, but then you get to keep the government open through a continuing resolution and then you get to the debt ceiling.”
“If you’re not careful, by Christmas you resemble John Boehner” to conservative rank-and-file members who are in no mood to cut deals, Gingrich said. “These things are hard.”
Ryan is a true standout in Congress. He gradually rose to prominence in the House as the chairman of the House Budget Committee after years as a legislative aide and speechwriter, think tank analyst, marketing consultant and junior House member from the small town of Janesville, Wisconsin, where his wife and three young children live.
He was a protégé of Jack Kemp, the late Republican lawmaker and football star from upstate New York who combined a belief in supply side economics with compassionate conservatism. But Ryan was also a big fan of the works of Ayn Rand, a champion of laissez faire capitalism.
After the Republicans won control of the House in 2010, Ryan unveiled the groundbreaking “Roadmap for America’s Future” – a highly controversial blue print for sharply reducing government spending and overhauling many social programs and entitlements. He advocated privatizing Medicare and converting Medicaid to a block grant and turning it over to the states.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney tapped Ryan to be his running mate in the 2012 presidential campaign after the two men went to great pains to confer secretly before word could slip out. After the Republicans went down to defeat in the general election, Ryan decided to stay out of the 2016 presidential campaign. Instead, he shifted his attention to setting the groundwork for a major overhaul of the federal tax code after the 2016 election.
But first, he was called upon to work out an armistice with the Democrats after the yearlong budget battle that led to the government shutdown in the fall of 2013. Although they were very different in political outlook and style, the liberal Murray and conservative Ryan met repeatedly in private and successfully hammered out an agreement to avert the possibility of another government shutdown or a first-ever default on the U.S. debt.
They did so by agreeing to cancel the automatic across-the-board spending cuts and caps mandated by the Budget Control Act to enable the GOP to claim more spending on defense and enable President Obama to gain more money for his prized domestic programs.
The landmark budget deal boosted overall spending by $63 billion over a two-year period yet also achieved $85 billion of savings and $23 billion of long-term net deficit reduction. It was a classic example of bipartisan give and take that produced an agreement that eventually won solid approval in the House and Senate.
In some ways, the Ryan-Murray budget deal is a model for a new budget agreement that the White House and Congress must strike by early December to avoid another government shutdown and possible default. But for 62 conservative Republicans, who wanted to preserve the spending caps to achieve even more budget savings, Ryan had let them down and they voted against the final deal in December 2013.
Joe Miller, a Republican conservative maverick and commentator who almost defeated Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in 2010, tweeted today that “Paul Ryan is the Absolute Worst Choice for Speaker.”
Miller wrote that Ryan has used “his leverage and respect to sabotage conservatives on every last budget fight of our time,” including his work on the Ryan-Murray budget deal.
“He forged the Ryan-Murray budget deal, which actually countermanded the few budget victories we’ve had over the past few years,” Miller said. “He was a wet blanket over the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. There is nobody in the conference who feels stronger about the need to preemptively announce he will not ‘default’ or ‘shut down the government’ than Ryan.”