The new Paul Ryan
By: Jake Sherman
December 10, 2013 09:54 PM EST
The new Paul Ryan emerged this week.
The House Budget Committee chairman, who has spent years penning budgets fit for conservatives’ dreams, has morphed into a man willing to take modest steps.
The two-year budget agreement he rolled out with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Tuesday evening is striking for its simplicity: It cuts the deficits by $23 billion, sets new higher spending levels for the next two years and replaces automatic spending cuts set to take effect in 2014.
But in abandoning his years-long quest to re-imagine American society and settling for a bipartisan deal, the Wisconsin Republican took the first steps to emerge as a House power center — a Republican willing to take baby steps to curb the nation’s trillions in debt, normalize the budget process and protect a Pentagon pilloried by cuts.
If the budget passes, it sets up a helpful message for Ryan as he considers both his future in the House and the 2016 presidential race: He can claim he is as a man in tune with the realities of governing. Sure, he is a conservative, but Ryan is willing dispense with the perfect in favor of the good.
As he unveiled this agreement Tuesday night in the Senate’s television studio, he made sure to mention that this is the first “divided government budget agreement since 1986.”
“As a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists,” Ryan said. “I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way things I want them to be. I’ve passed three budgets in a row that reflect my priorities and my principles and everything I wanted to accomplish. We’re in divided government. I realize I’m not going to get that. So I’m not going to go a mile in the direction I wanted to go to, but I will take a few steps in the right direction. This agreement takes us in the right direction, from my perspective, for the very reasons I laid out before.”
A vote is expected later this week, before the House recesses for the remainder of 2013. Ryan predicted healthy support for the plan in the House, while Murray appeared confident the bill would pass the Senate and President Barack Obama praised the outlines of the agreement. Still, it will be a tough sell with conservatives, a fact that lays bare Ryan’s immediate challenge.
His task is to convince enough of the 231 members of the House Republican Conference Wednesday morning that they should follow him in taking a “step in the right direction” — a tough message for a group of people who shut down the government to defund the president’s signature legislative achievement.
Ryan and the Republican leadership are hoping their party ignores the loud voices of the outside groups, which panned the deal before it was even announced. This, Ryan is trying to impress upon his colleagues, is what it looks like to be a conservative. By voting for this bill, Republicans will avoid another government shutdown and achieve real spending reductions. The bill, Ryan said Tuesday, cuts the deficit by $23 billion — savings he fought for vociferously behind closed doors.
“This says let’s cut spending in a smarter way, some permanent spending cuts to pay for some temporary sequester relief, resulting in net deficit reduction without raising taxes,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday night. “That’s fiscal responsibility. That’s fiscal conservatism. And it adds a greater stability to the situation. It prevents government shutdowns, which we don’t think is anyone’s interest. That to me is the right thing to do, and that is a conservative looking at the situation as it is, making it better.”
Of course, there will be Republicans who oppose this deal. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whom Ryan might run into in Des Moines in 2015, is against the agreement. Conservatives like Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) have panned the deal on Twitter.
“Americans don’t want another bipartisan deal…they want a solution to the #overspending,” Huelskamp wrote.
But those hard-line elements might find themselves further isolated, as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and many of Washington’s top lawmakers offered their quick support for the agreement.
Still, Ryan might find his name on an agreement that several dozens of House Republicans vote against. The bill raises revenue — which some conservatives call tax increases — and increases overall spending. It hardly touches the problems Republicans have spent years trying to fix, such as major changes to social safety net programs and a rewriting of the Tax Code.
And this agreement is far from all-encompassing. Ryan and Murray’s pact doesn’t increase the debt limit — lawmakers are saving that battle for 2014 – and leaves aside an extension of federal unemployment benefits.
All of that could hurt Ryan on the right but help him establish his credentials as someone who can work in Washington — not just talk about conservative solutions that won’t be implemented.
And it ditches the Ryan of yesteryear and helps sketch the outlines of Ryan the deal-cutter.
“The House budget reflects our ultimate goals,” Ryan said, talking about his spending blueprints of previous years. “It balanced the budget within 10 years, it pays off the debt, but I realize that that is not going to pass in this divided government. I see this agreement as a step in the right direction. In divided government, you don’t always get what you want. That said, we still can make progress toward our goals.”