Paul Ryan’s boldest moment? It’s happening right now.

December 12, 2013

The boldest political move of Paul Ryan's career came this week when he stood side by side with Patty Murray to announce an $85 billion budget agreement.

"What!" you say. "How can that be?" you ask. "You're crazy," you allege. After all, this is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) of the eponymous Ryan budget -- the ur-text of economic conservatism in the modern age. The Ryan budget is widely regarded by Republicans as the boldest statement of policy since the Reagan administration. Without the Ryan budget, Ryan is never a national figure much less the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012.

True enough. But, hear us out.

Ryan first introduced the "Path to Prosperity" budget blueprint in April 2011, roughly five months after Republicans had retaken the House majority. It was a document intended to show that Republicans were ready, willing and able to govern using a conservative approach to debt and spending issues. But, what it was not was a document that ever had any chance of actually becoming law.

Remember that Democrats retained the majority in the Senate and that President Obama sat in the White House in April 2011. And in 2012 when Ryan again introduced a budget covering the 2013 fiscal year. No one -- including Ryan -- thought that the Ryan budget would ever come anywhere close to the president's desk. And, it didn't.

There was safety in that for Ryan. Rake in kudos from conservatives for putting out a vision that would address the country's debt and spending problems without ever -- really -- having to worry about what it would mean if your plan went from proposal to law of the land. The boldness of the plan was undergirded by the certainty it would never come to pass. It's like insisting to your buddies you would definitely ask out the prom queen if she happened to be in your basement right now. Which, of course, she isn't.

The Murray-Ryan budget deal, on the other hand, has a very real chance of becoming law. And that means Ryan will have attached his name to something that outside conservative groups have denounced as insufficiently dedicated to deficit reduction. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R), who is might run for president in 2016, said the deal amounted to the credo of Wimpy (of "Popeye" fame): "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

Ryan seemed entirely aware of that reality when he announced that an agreement had been reached. "I see this agreement as a step in the right direction," Ryan said. "In divided government, you don’t always get what you want." That, given the compromise-equals-capitulation mindset of a significant swath of the GOP base and talk of Ryan headlining a national ticket sometime in the future, is a decidedly pointed political statement.

In attaching his name to a compromise deal that (a) has a real chance of becoming law and (b) is sure to tarnish his golden boy image among fiscal conservatives, Ryan showed a boldness absent from his previous forays into budgeting. Now, let's see if he gets rewarded or punished for being bold.

Fixbits:

House Republicans appeared to rally behind the Ryan-Murray budget agreement.

Still, some conservatives railed against it.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander's chief of staff was arrested on child pornography charges and fired by the senator.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, fired the caucus’s top aide.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) touted her proposed Obamacare fix in her first TV ad.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is recovering after injuring his face trying to move furniture.

Former "Price Is Right" host Bob Barker endorsed Republican David Jolly in Florida's 13th District special election.

Must-reads:

"Gun-control groups are shifting efforts and resources to handful of states" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post

"How sequester cuts divided the winners from the losers — including Head Start children" -- David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

"A Popular Noncandidate Keeps His Options Open and the Voters Guessing" -- Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times

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Sean Sullivan | December 11, 2013