Ryan sees shutdown, debt talks converging
WASHINGTON—In the weeks leading up to the federal government shutdown, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan made little secret that he thought it was a bad idea.
As recently as two weeks ago, he said in an interview that he did not think a federal government shutdown would happen, and that it would not “serve our interests” in delaying or killing the Affordable Care Act.
But as the current impasse stretches into a new week, the Janesville Republican is striking a different pose.
Now, Ryan sees the government shutdown linking up with upcoming talks over the nation’s debt limit, which must be resolved by the middle of the month to avoid an unprecedented default.
“I see the two issues converging, the continuing resolution and the debt limit, converging because they are just so close in time,” he said in an interview. “I think that’s just the reality of the situation.”
That could mean the current shutdown could drag on two more weeks.
“I don’t know how long it is going to be, but it is conceivable that it could last that long if they (Democrats) choose not to send negotiators,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
Ryan is in a tricky situation.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he has been viewed for years as an influential Republican voice on economic issues and a main architect of the House Republican approach on the budget. He’s also the former vice presidential candidate, and is widely assumed to be a future presidential candidate.
But he has been—by national political standards, at least—fairly inconspicuous during the most recent showdown with President Barack Obama and Democrats. Colleagues in the House have said they don’t understand why he hasn’t been more vocal.
Ryan dismissed criticism that he has not been up front and center on the impasse.
“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.”
A recent event that includ-ed Ryan, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and other key Republicans sitting on one side of a large conference table with the other, empty side representing missing Democrats clearly did not go as planned. Questions turned negative, and the participants—Ryan in particular—looked uncomfortable.
During Friday’s interview, Ryan distanced himself from the mess by pointing out the current impasse is over funding.
“I am not the appropriations chairman. The Budget Committee does not do that. That is not my Budget Committee’s jurisdiction,” he said.
Ryan said he continues to talk with others about a budget agreement that could be linked to the debt limit talks to cover both mandatory and discretionary spending, tax reform and energy policy.
“That shouldn’t be a secret,” he said when asked about recent reports that there’s been movement on that front. “We have been doing this all along. My goal all along was to get a budget agreement with the debt limit.”
He cites previous debt limit agreements as precedents.
“Like with administrations past, we think a debt limit agreement is the only way with this administration to get this economy growing and to get this debt under control,” Ryan said.
So far, Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress have remained united on their demands that House Republicans should pass a clean funding bill, without any of the various add-ons passed up to this point. Obama is expected to remain just as steadfast on the debt limit issue, and the administration has issued warnings about the potential devastating economic consequences of a first-ever U.S. default.
Ryan played down suggestions that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has offered assurances the House will act to avoid a default, and the congressman even sidestepped a question on his view of what a default would mean.
He took the same approach when asked whether House Republicans were gaining or losing ground on the current impasse and shutdown.
Asked whether Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a favorite of the tea party, has gained too much influence over House members, making compromise more difficult, Ryan declined to follow other Republicans who have not been shy about criticizing Cruz, also viewed as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
“I am just going to leave that alone. I think you can report however you want on that,” he said. “I am not focused on pointing fingers right now or criticizing other members of Congress. I see no utility in that.”