Ryan preparing to be GOP's fiscal leader
The next budget chairman of the new GOP-controlled House, Janesville's Paul Ryan, said Wednesday that the working relationship between Republicans in Congress and the Democratic White House will depend largely on President Barack Obama's willingness to make concessions.
"The president whose agenda was just repudiated yesterday needs to change and come in our direction, and it's up to him whether he does it or not," said Ryan, whose platform as party point man on fiscal issues was further elevated by Tuesday's election.
Ryan said he viewed the election not as a mandate for Republicans as much as a rejection of the Democrats' agenda and policies.
"They misread 2008 as a mandate; they scared people. Voters were really horrified by the level of debt," Ryan said.
"I wouldn't say this (election) is a validation of Republicans, far from it. This was a repudiation of the direction the president and his party have taken the country. Just like 2006 was a repudiation of Republicans who strayed from their principles and got soft on spending and government."
Ryan described his new role as writing the budget instead of watching it being written. He has been the top Republican on the House budget committee, but his influence has mainly been rhetorical with Republicans in the minority. Now he's expected to be a major player in the overarching struggle between the parties over not only spending and deficits but the scope and size of the federal government.
"We have a very divided government. We have one third of the three pieces," he said, referring to the GOP House, the Democratic Senate and the White House. "The way I see it, we will define ourselves with our own actions. We owe it to the country to give them a different plan, a different direction than the one being presented (by Obama). If the president is willing to moderate and move to the right, fantastic. Then we can get something done. But if he doubles down (on his agenda) it's going to be a tough two years."
Ryan said, "I have a hard time imagining the president is going to roll over and say, ĎAll those things I fought for are wrong.' "
"I think what we owe the country is a choice of two futures that will be fully and finally decided in 2012."
"Does that mean I want to have nothing but gridlock for two years? No, I want to move forward in as many areas as possible with the president, but that's going to be up to him."
Obama on Wednesday called the election a "shellacking," described himself as humbled by it, and said he was willing to work with Republicans. But he also defended major decisions he took in his first two years in office, and he and his party are certain to oppose GOP efforts to roll back the health care law.
Ryan could face frictions within his party as well over how hard to push for spending and entitlement cuts. Ryan's personal policy blueprint, known as the "Roadmap," calls for sweeping changes to Medicare and Social Security that most lawmakers in his own party have shied away from.
But Ryan said he thinks this will be a much bolder group of Republicans in the aftermath of the election.
"We have over 60 people coming to Congress who just endured three months of Medicare and Social Security demagoguery of ads designed to scare seniors, and we won the senior vote handily. These things are no longer the third rail they once were," Ryan said.
"They're not coming for a political career. They're coming for a cause. The makeup of the Republican conference will be far more principled and far more courageous in advancing fiscal conservatism."
Craig Gilbert is the Washington D.C. Bureau Chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel