When Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled his “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint in April 2011, the ambitious young chairman of the House Budget Committee was the toast of the Beltway wonk scene.
The seven-term Wisconsin Republican did the think-tank circuit and worked the Sunday talk shows to promote his plan to steer the country away from the fiscal cliff.
And when Ryan personally tangled with Barack Obama over healthcare reform at the president’s 2010 summit, it was mostly Beltway types and political junkies enduring the six-hour televised event.
But with Ryan coming out of the Capitol to become a household name on the national trail (soon, that is — 39 percent of those polled in a Gallup survey released today had never heard of him), becoming the first House member to get a VP nod since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, it’s likely to have repercussions in these corridors.
The Democrats will have the open window to bring actions of the Republican-controlled House into the national presidential campaign in a way that it couldn’t with a senator or governor on the ticket. Conversely, by taking their nearly two years of majority efforts to force a balanced budget, House Republicans could add gains to their steady climb out of the rock-bottom congressional approval rating of 10 percent measured by Gallup in February.
Ryan’s step into political stardom also reflects brightly on the GOP’s Young Guns program that he founded with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to build up the Republican majority. In the 2010 midterm rout, 62 of 92 candidates in the Young Guns program won House seats, including Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).
After that Tea Party cycle in which the grassroots advocated sending fresh faces to Washington, the right is now being rallied by a Hill denizen through-and-though in Ryan.
“What I know in Paul Ryan is he is an individual that came to Washington for a cause. And it was really a cause to try and get this country back on track,” Cantor said Saturday on CNN. “From the days he and I used to sit on the Ways and Means Committee together, we would sit there for hours and talk about his plans for the future and how it is that he thought that we ought to lead, in terms of tax reform, in terms of trying to get the debt under control in this country.”
Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) told CNN that “he’s one of the young guns who inspired so many of us like me, a citizen legislator, to run for office.”
“He is a great friend and mentor to members of the freshman class,” Hayworth said. “…And he has been the architect of and our teacher and mentor, he’s been architect of a budget plan that actually will work for the United States.”
But is Ryan the “ideological leader of Republicans in Congress” as President Obama claimed in his first remarks about the running mate selection?
He’s not a member of Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) Tea Party Caucus, despite assertions that he’s the face of the Tea Party in Congress as he’s a popular speaker at grassroots rallies. He is a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, a much larger caucus than Bachmann’s group, which is chaired by another conservative who is not a member of the Tea Party Caucus, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
“[Ryan] has always been a principled voice for positive solutions that will help strengthen our economy and build a future of opportunity and prosperity,” said Tea Party Caucus member Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who leader the Republican Policy Committee. “There has been no greater ally in Congress for those of us fighting to change the reckless habits of the Obama administration.”
Even if some onlookers’ ideas of the “ideological leader” of an ideal GOP range from housecleaner Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to the hawkish Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to social conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), it can be safely said that the budget mantra by which Republicans this Congress have been guided is Ryan’s “Prosperity.”