Representative Paul Ryan wants Republicans to pick and choose where to stand their ground during President Obama’s second term and remain united.
Speaking at the National Review Institute, Ryan outlined a pragmatic approach to dealing with the president, including the notion that some of Obama’s proposals could be improved by applying conservative principles:
“If we want to promote conservatism, we’ll need to use every tool at our disposal,” Ryan said. “Sometimes, we will have to reject the president’s proposals — that time may come more than once. And sometimes we’ll have to make them better.” He said Republicans should have two main goals for the next four years, namely “to mitigate bad policies” and “to advance good policy wherever we can.”
Ryan acknowledged that “we all didn’t see eye to eye” on the recent “fiscal cliff” vote to deal with a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes that were set to take effect at the start of the year. He defended his support for the bill, saying it was the only way to avoid sweeping tax increases and prevent the economy from going into a free-fall.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan said Republicans needed to guard against a debt crisis for the country that would undermine the economy. He said he would promote changes to Medicare and Medicaid and would propose a budget “that will balance and pay down the debt.”
But November’s election results still linger. Ryan said he was “disappointed” by the outcome, saying he was “looking forward to taking on the big challenges” while living at the vice president’s residence. “My kids were looking forward to having a pool,” he joked.
It’s hard to see at this point what the GOP House could do to “improve” the president’s proposals for a second term. On Obama’s big ticket items — gun control, immigration, deficit reduction — the Republicans find themselves with very little common ground to work with and much to oppose outright.
Ryan acknowledged the difficulties and urged the GOP to play for time:
“If they won’t help fix our entitlements, then we have to buy time,” he said. “We have to keep the bond markets at bay — for the sake of our people.”
Later he returned to the same point. “The horizon before us might seem narrow. But believe me: It’s going to grow,” he promised his conservative audience. “As the president implements his agenda, the results will fall far short of the rhetoric. And they won’t be pretty. We will have tepid growth and deficits — health-care price controls and rationing.”
Ryan was most scathing toward Obama. But as a major player in the budget debate taking shape in the new Congress, the chairman also took a more pessimistic view than Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had this week.
Boehner and Ryan have been most insistent that the Senate act on a budget resolution this year — even orchestrating a House vote this week to withhold senators’ pay if the chamber fails to act. Ryan appeared to up the ante further by saying Saturday that the House won’t act on another debt increase until the Senate produces a budget.
In any case, the incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) promised Wednesday to comply, and Boehner took some heart from this.
“If both chambers have a budget … now you have competing visions for how we address the problem,” Boehner told reporters. “Out of those competing visions we’re going to find some common ground.”
Nothing so hopeful was expressed by Ryan, who has upped the stakes by proposing that the House cut spending enough to wipe out deficits after 10 years — a tall order.
“This session, I’ll advance reforms to protect and strengthen Medicare and Medicaid,” Ryan said Saturday. “Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, will advance a tax-reform effort. And we will propose a budget that will balance and pay down the debt.
“Unfortunately, the Democrats are unlikely to accept our proposals. They refuse to consider real reform. But we will lay the groundwork for future endeavors. So when reform is possible, we will be ready.
That’s about as pessimistic an assessment of the near future that I can recall anyone advancing.