Paul Ryan Named To ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Negotiations – A Political Tightrope Act

Recently defeated Republican Vice Presidential Nominee, Paul Ryan, has been named by Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to play a key role in the current negotiations in Congress and with the White House to reach a budget accommodation on taxes and avoid the dreaded ‘fiscal cliff.’ Failure to reach agreement would cause all of the Bush Tax Cuts to expire in January and trigger massive spending cuts to the Defense Department and many domestic programs, as packaged in the Budget Sequestration deal reached last year in Congress, which Ryan himself supported.

As reported today by Talking Points Memo, Ryan has some tough work ahead of him and faces stiff challenges in helping (or hindering) any ultimate agreement. Ryan, who won reelection to his Wisconsin House seat—despite the defeat of the Romney/Ryan ticket—was also renamed as Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee; so his continuing relevance and legislative imprint will surely be felt in any negotiations moving forward.

Though the darling of the Republican Tea Party Caucus due to his Draconian budget plan, which was a central focus of the presidential campaign, Ryan has sent mixed messages in the past. For example, he was appointed to the Simpson-Bowles Commission, yet voted against the final report and commission recommendations. He voted in favor of previous raises to the Debt Ceiling, as well as T.A.R.P. (Troubled Asset Relief Program) in 2008 and the subsequent Auto Bailout…though then played down his support for those governmental spending programs during the recent presidential campaign.

Ryan, a fiscal conservative, budget hawk, bent on curtailing federal spending and paying down the deficit through massive cuts to many federal programs…from Medicare spending (e.g. through his ill-conceived voucherization scheme) to decimating nearly every federal department and agency (except—of course—the Pentagon), has aroused the ire of the hard-line conservatives in the Tea Party caucus for his wavering and seeming ‘political expediency’ in the past.

Notably, Ryan—despite his high-profile budget credentials–begged off being named to the failed Super Committee last fall, which led to the Budget Sequestration dilemma now being dealt with in Congress. As noted in the Talking Points Memo article,

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is now at the center of fiscal cliff talks and involved in daily GOP leadership meetings, along with Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp and Energy & Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, the aide said. That means that unlike previous hard-fought bipartisan deals, his fingerprints will be on the final outcome.

Now that an agreement on taxes and spending is all but imperative, and since his party lacks the leverage it needs to shape the final legislative package, Ryan must decide whether to use his influence to support a compromise or to push his party to continue opposing any new taxes.

This will surely prove to be a ‘high wire’ act for Ryan, who many believe to be among likely front-runners for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination. It will indeed be interesting to watch how he will negotiate these treacherous political waters–trying to retain popularity among the rabid Tea Party wing of his party – yet gain more conciliatory, centrist credentials to appeal to independents and the majority of Americans, who desire a more functional Congress…if he wants to further his political career and enhance his chances for the nomination in 2016.

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