Bipartisan Budget Deal Puts Ryan Under Fire From Fellow Conservatives
Paul Ryan Discusses Budget Deal: Representative Ryan and Senator Patty Murray agreed on a budget plan that could possibly prevent another government shutdown.
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
Published: December 11, 2013
Representative Paul D. Ryan’s eight terms in Congress have produced much political celebrity and Republican respect but just two laws bearing the Ryan name — a renamed post office and a modified excise tax on arrows like the ones he uses for bow hunting.
Then on Tuesday he struck a budget deal with Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, that affixed a new label to the polished veneer of Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican: deal maker and, to some, traitor.
With a modest, bipartisan blueprint on taxes and spending, Mr. Ryan is taking a risk he has previously shied away from, putting what party leaders see as a crucial need — ending the debilitating budget wars in Washington that have crippled the Republican brand — over his own self-interests with the conservative activists that dominate the early Republican presidential primaries.
For the first time, the conservative wunderkind and former vice-presidential nominee is taking withering fire from movement conservatives who see the deal as a betrayal by a former ally. Potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 immediately went on the attack, blasting the deal and challenging Mr. Ryan’s status as the thinking man’s conservative.
“It’s not just this budget; it’s this lack of long-term thinking around here,” Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican considered a 2016 contender, told Mike Huckabee on his conservative radio show on Wednesday. “There are no long-term solutions apparently possible in Washington, and we are running out of time.”
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, another potential candidate for the Republican nomination, said, “I cannot support a budget that raises taxes and never balances, nor can I support a deal that does nothing to reduce our nation’s $17.3 trillion debt.”
At the same time, Mr. Ryan may have enhanced his stature as the conservative in Washington who can actually get things done.
“He’s one of smartest people I know, trying to wrestle with our real problems,” Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, said of Mr. Ryan. “Republicans made the calculation that they want to get to the election with no more fuss, focus on Obamacare and retake the Senate, so he produced a budget that raises spending and raises taxes. It’s as simple as that.”
The budget plan, which raises spending over the next two years, with the promise of $23 billion in deficit reduction over a decade, is likely to pass the House on Thursday and clear the Senate before the Christmas recess. But it will do so with significant Republican defections. “I’m undecided,” declared Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho. “I haven’t decided whether I’m a really strong no or just a no.”
Mr. Ryan shrugged off such sentiments and spent Wednesday selling the deal as a pragmatic step toward governance in a divided Washington that reduces the deficit slightly without compromising the party’s core principles.
“We know that this budget agreement doesn’t come close to achieving what we want to achieve on our ultimate fiscal goals,” Mr. Ryan said Wednesday. “But again, if we can get a step in the right direction, we’re going to take that step, and that’s why we’re doing this.”
With Ms. Murray by his side to announce the deal on Tuesday, Mr. Ryan explained his thinking: “As a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists. I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way 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.”
That new pragmatism is not sitting well with professional activists who have mounted a full-throated effort to kill the deal. Heritage Action, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and others have all lined up against the budget compromise, if not against Mr. Ryan personally.
“The conservative base of the Republican Party was already walking away from the establishment G.O.P.,” fumed L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica. “That will now turn into a stampede away from a party that has lost its principles and bearings.”
But it is a testament to Mr. Ryan’s stature with conservatives that even the most vocal opponents of the deal are reluctant to criticize the man who negotiated it.
“Mr. Ryan has done the best job he could,” given the insistent liberalism of the Senate, said Representative Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland, even as he chastised the agreement for reversing spending cuts set to go in force next month in exchange for savings that will not appear until 2021 and 2022. “We have to realize the environment in which Mr. Ryan functions.”
Representative Cynthia M. Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, took the agreement to task for making permanent a temporary provision that diminished Western states’ royalties from mineral exploration on federal land. But, she hastened to add: “The only reason I am undecided is my respect and regard for Paul Ryan. This will not diminish his standing in any way. He has been a marvelous soldier.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Murray said her negotiating partner understood from the beginning that he would be taking a hit. He never brought up presidential politics or his own future, she said. But he talked at length about the delicate politics of the Balkanized House and what he would need to get the deal passed.
“We talked from the very beginning about the fact that we would have to find a place where we wouldn’t get 100 percent of the votes in the House or Senate,” she said. “But in order to get common ground, we’d have to both take our lumps.”
The political impact of the budget deal may be mitigated by its complexity, said John H. Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff, and a kingmaker in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. In truth, he said, no one will ever know whether the accord lowers the deficit or raises it. The consequences for Mr. Ryan will rest on the sales job — for and against.
On that end, both sides are hard at work. While Mr. Ryan was trying to keep House Republicans in line, Mr. Rubio was working the talk show circuit, first with Sean Hannity, then with Mr. Huckabee, challenging Mr. Ryan on his core selling point as a conservative thinker. Their allies, such as Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, fanned out to take shots at the deal as well.
Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, who is friends with Mr. Ryan but a consistent policy foe, wasted no tears on the chairman of his committee.
“This is what you get paid the big bucks for,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “It’s important for members of Congress to show they can work with one another. I hope it becomes habit-forming.”