The message may be clear. But the selection of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday also has the potential to generate some controversy for Republicans.
The intended signal: Obama will use his speech to lay out his vision for the country’s agenda, but congressional Republicans, who now control the House, won’t back off on one of their core campaign pledges to America--to dig in and significantly cut federal spending. In Ryan, they have the personification of that philosophy.
Ryan, who will be four days short of his 41st birthday on Tuesday, echoed as much today. "I am hopeful that the president will work with the new House majority to cut spending, reform government, and restore the foundations for growth and job creation," he said in a statement announcing his selection. "More than rhetoric, we need results."
But if Republicans intend to make the seven-term lawmaker the poster boy for their philosophy on spending cuts and deficit reduction, Democrats have an opportunity to make him the symbol of a lack of openness and transparency in the new House GOP.
Hours before the president arrives in the House chamber to deliver his address, Ryan will be the focal point of a floor fight over how House Republicans intend to handle the budget.
The GOP intends to offer a resolution giving the budget chairman sole responsibility for developing a plan to cut nondefense spending at least to 2008 levels for the rest of fiscal 2011.
Democrats argue that would give one lawmaker--Ryan--nearly unilateral authority over the country’s immediate spending decisions.
Speaking on the House floor on Thursday, Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the implication “is that Mr. Ryan unilaterally can set a number which has not been agreed to by the House, but under the power granted in this resolution would bind the House to a number to which it never agreed.”
“I am not for giving any one person in this body the authority to unilaterally set the number at which we will fund America’s government for the next seven months,” he declared.
In a response on the floor, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., defended the plan.
He told Hoyer that “we are in the position we are in” because the last Congress, in which both the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats, “failed to live up to its obligation in passing a budget and in even passing appropriations bills short of a continuing resolution.”
“That’s why we are here today, because there is a mess that has been created from the last majority, and we are trying to clean that up,” Cantor said. He said that members on both sides of the aisle will be able to try to amend the spending resolution that Ryan offers when it comes to the floor, “according to the way they think that we ought to be saving taxpayer dollars.”
But Hoyer would not let up, “The point I am trying to make … is that what we are in that resolution giving is to one person--one person--in this Congress the authority, without consideration by this House, to set the number, without hearings, on what we will cap spending levels at for fiscal year 2011.”