Why Is Paul Ryan So Quiet on Shutdown?

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 04: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) heads for a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. 'This isn't some damn game,' Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said about the current federal government shutdown.
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Billy House
Oct. 7, 2013, 5:13 p.m.

As the show­down over the budget drags on, one name con­spicu­ously miss­ing in the daily back-and-forth between Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats is that of House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an.

The Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an — who last year was a house­hold name who scarcely could go a news cycle without a men­tion as Mitt Rom­ney’s vice pres­id­en­tial run­ning mate — has been largely si­lent. While oth­er po­ten­tial 2016 pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates have been out front — namely Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — Ry­an has stayed in the back­ground.

“He doesn’t want to be part of this,” said Rep. Sander Lev­in, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. “He doesn’t know where he fits in. With the tea-party guys? No, he doesn’t want to be as­so­ci­ated with them.”

Con­or Sweeney, a spokes­man for Ry­an, says, “Chair­man Ry­an con­tin­ues to work with his col­leagues to forge a budget agree­ment.” His of­fice de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest.

Aides to oth­er top House Re­pub­lic­ans say Ry­an is, in fact, busy in closed-door meet­ings, work­ing to craft the House Re­pub­lic­ans’ strategy and le­gis­la­tion on the debt ceil­ing.

But some say the one­time con­ser­vat­ive darling — nev­er too press-averse (he shared his workouts and the songs on his iPod dur­ing the elec­tion) — is simply ly­ing low in an ef­fort to avoid be­ing tarred by the shut­down.

“Part of the low vis­ib­il­ity might have to do with where he wants to go next: pres­id­ent, speak­er, chair­man of Ways and Means,” says G. Wil­li­am Hoag­land, a former GOP Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee staffer who is a seni­or vice pres­id­ent at the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter. “Each fu­ture po­s­i­tion seems to re­com­mend that it’s best to lay low and work be­hind the scenes, be a work­horse, not a show horse right now.”

Ry­an has done a few in­ter­views. In one chat Fri­day with his home-state pa­per, the Mil­wau­kee Journ­al-Sen­tinel, Ry­an ap­peared to try to put some dis­tance between him­self and the cur­rent crisis, caused by the House and Sen­ate’s in­ab­il­ity to agree on a bill to re­start gov­ern­ment fund­ing and end the shut­down.

“I am not the Ap­pro­pri­ations chair­man,” he told the pa­per. “The Budget Com­mit­tee does not do that. That is not my Budget Com­mit­tee’s jur­is­dic­tion.”

Ry­an also dis­missed cri­ti­cism that he has not been front and cen­ter.

“Some­times I think it is im­port­ant to do your job and try to find a solu­tion. If I have something mean­ing­ful to say, I will go out and say it in the press,” he said. “I am hunkered down and do­ing my job with my staff, with lead­er­ship try­ing to come up with solu­tions to this prob­lem.”

As re­cently as two weeks ago, Ry­an had said in an in­ter­view he did not think a shut­down would hap­pen, and that it would not “serve our in­terests,” mean­ing Re­pub­lic­ans’ ef­forts to delay or kill the Af­ford­able Care Act.

On Monday, a Ry­an aide did not re­spond when asked if the law­maker now dis­agrees with Pres­id­ent Obama that Speak­er John Boehner should al­low a vote on a “clean” fund­ing bill stripped of anti-Obama­care lan­guage.

Still, Ry­an him­self provided an in­dic­a­tion last week of what he really thinks. At a photo event staged with House Re­pub­lic­ans, he in­dic­ated that budget and debt-ceil­ing talks should be linked, in a way that could in­volve broad­er dis­cus­sions over areas such as en­ti­tle­ment and tax re­form.

“Most budget agree­ments in the past have al­ways in­volved debt-lim­it in­crease,” Ry­an said. “We think that’s the for­cing mech­an­ism.”


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