Paul Ryan Takes a Step Toward House Speakership

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, departs a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on November 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. Boehner commented on the ongoing problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act during his remarks.
National Journal
Dec. 12, 2013, 3:48 p.m.

Paul Ry­an’s pres­id­en­tial pro­spects may have dimmed this week, but his fu­ture on Cap­it­ol Hill has nev­er looked bright­er.

The budget com­prom­ise he struck with Sen. Patty Mur­ray, which passed the House on a lop­sided 332-94 vote Thursday, had con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists and out­side groups howl­ing. That might one day curb Re­pub­lic­an en­thu­si­asm for Paul Ry­an the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate.

But in­side the dome, over­whelm­ing sup­port for Paul Ry­an the poli­cy­maker — even from those vot­ing against his pro­pos­al — armed him with a ma­jor le­gis­lat­ive vic­tory and a repu­ta­tion as a bi­par­tis­an con­sensus-build­er. That means big­ger things may be on the ho­ri­zon.

“Paul did as­ton­ish­ingly well. He was at a pro­found dis­ad­vant­age in those ne­go­ti­ations, and I think he did amaz­ingly well,” said Rep. Trent Franks, an Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­an who ul­ti­mately op­posed the agree­ment.

Ry­an was once be­lieved to pos­sess the sin­gu­lar abil­ity to sell a budget com­prom­ise to even the most skep­tic­al con­ser­vat­ives. Al­though he won over the vast ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans, that the­ory proved false — 62 of Ry­an’s GOP com­rades voted against his pro­pos­al. But what he did pull off — los­ing the votes of those Re­pub­lic­ans, but not their re­spect and ad­mir­a­tion — is per­haps even more im­press­ive.

“I think he’s been well-re­spec­ted and he’s go­ing to stay well-re­spec­ted,” Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Re­pub­lic­an, said of Ry­an be­fore the fi­nal vote on Fri­day.

Jordan op­posed the budget deal, which he said vi­ol­ates part of a Janu­ary agree­ment among Re­pub­lic­ans stat­ing that the House wouldn’t trade away se­quest­ra­tion for any­thing ex­cept en­ti­tle­ment re­forms. But Jordan says their dis­pute over this deal doesn’t change his opin­ion of Ry­an.

“I re­spec­ted the guy be­fore. I re­spect him now,” Jordan said. “I think he’s been a good lead­er in our con­fer­ence, and a great budget chair­man. I just dis­agree with his vote here.”

Rep. Mick Mul­vaney, an­oth­er Ry­an ally who op­posed the budget deal, em­phas­ized that Ry­an’s will­ing­ness to strike a com­prom­ise “does not un­der­mine his con­ser­vat­ive cred­ib­il­ity or bona fides.”

That sen­ti­ment rang uni­ver­sal this week among Ry­an’s con­ser­vat­ive com­rades who op­poses his budget agree­ment. They like him and ad­mire him as much as ever. They just wer­en’t go­ing to vote for his deal.

“People re­spect him. He had a job to do, and he went and did it,” said Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Re­pub­lic­an who voted against the meas­ure.

Such ad­u­la­tion, of course, is com­ing from Ry­an’s col­leagues in the halls of Con­gress. Con­ser­vat­ive opin­ion-lead­ers and ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tions out­side haven’t been nearly as gen­er­ous with their re­views of Ry­an’s work.

The Club for Growth, which pres­sured law­makers to vote against the deal, blas­ted it as “budget­ary smoke and mir­rors.” Talk-ra­dio host Mark Lev­in told Ry­an the agree­ment was “Mickey Mouse.” And Her­it­age Ac­tion, which also key-voted in op­pos­i­tion, called Ry­an’s work “a step back­ward” for con­ser­vat­ism.

Ry­an, for his part, seemed more be­mused than be­trayed by the con­ser­vat­ive cri­ti­cism. “It’s a strange new nor­mal, isn’t it?” he said Wed­nes­day. “It is what it is. It’s funny, isn’t it?”

Laugh­ing off dis­par­age­ment is a fa­vor­ite tac­tic of Speak­er John Boehner, who launched a rhet­or­ic­al of­fens­ive against the out­side groups this week, say­ing they had “lost all cred­ib­il­ity” after voicing op­pos­i­tion to a budget deal they hadn’t yet seen.

Ry­an once worked in Boehner’s of­fice as an in­tern, and the two have been close ever since. Ry­an’s mim­ick­ing of Boehner’s at­ti­tude this week, and Boehner’s pa­ternal-like de­fense of Ry­an’s plan, could fore­tell a scen­ario one day in which the speak­er’s gavel passes from one small-town Mid­west­ern­er to the oth­er. But that won’t likely hap­pen any­time soon; Boehner’s of­fice has said the speak­er will run for reelec­tion in the next Con­gress. And Ry­an, who is term-lim­ited as chair­man of the Budget Com­mit­tee, ap­pears likely to take over the Ways and Means pan­el in 2015.

Still, Ry­an’s name has long been whispered — some­times shouted — as a po­ten­tial suc­cessor to Boehner. That spec­u­la­tion could have ended ab­ruptly this week. But it didn’t. In fact, listen­ing to his col­leagues shower him with ad­or­a­tion in re­cent days, it wouldn’t be un­reas­on­able to think Ry­an’s budget com­prom­ise may be a ma­jor as­set.

“The only reas­on that I am, at this point, un­de­cided is out of my com­plete re­spect and re­gard for Paul Ry­an,” Rep. Cyn­thia Lum­mis, R-Wyo., said Wed­nes­day. “He has re­mained per­son­ally com­mit­ted to con­ser­vat­ive prin­ciples. He has re­mained per­son­ally com­mit­ted to bal­an­cing the budget in 10 years. I am proud to serve with him.”

Lum­mis, whom Ry­an ul­ti­mately couldn’t con­vince to sup­port the budget deal, non­ethe­less ad­ded, “He has been a mar­velous sol­dier.”

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