“We just have to win and fix this thing,” he said at the time. “2013 is the magic year that determines how all this gets resolved. And who’s running the place will determine that.”
Ryan’s unwavering dedication to conservative principles has impressed the party’s restive class of House freshmen. Rep. Allen B. West (Fla.) calls Ryan the “intellectual epicenter” of the GOP. But it has frustrated some of Ryan’s Republican colleagues, who have been forced to cut deals with Democrats to keep the government open and accomplish Republican goals, such as passing long-stalled free trade agreements. GOP aides noted that Ryan even voted against a measure, negotiated by House leaders, to dial back unemployment benefits and extend a temporary payroll tax holiday.
While Romney has characterized Ryan as a seasoned legislator with “an ability to work across the aisle” to “find enough common ground to get things done,” the seven-term Wisconsin congressman has no record of participating in any major bipartisan legislative achievement. Democrats say he would make a very different sort of vice president than Joseph Biden, a natural glad-hander who has taken the lead for Obama in negotiations with Republicans over taxes and deficit reduction.
“His approach — my way or the highway — is precisely what’s wrong with this town. It’s the triumph of ideology,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who served with Ryan on the independent fiscal commission chaired by Democrat Erskine B. Bowles and former Republican senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming. “The hard reality is, given the fact that we have divided government, both sides have to compromise in order to achieve a result. And Paul has refused to do that.”
Ryan’s defenders say he has done the best he could given Obama’s lackluster leadership.
“As House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan — along with his colleagues — wrote and passed the only serious budgets Washington has seen in recent years,” Romney campaign spokesman Michael Steel said in an email. “He led the way on bipartisan deficit reduction proposals. At the same time, Senate Democrats failed to propose a budget at all, and President Obama’s budget received zero Democratic votes in the House or Senate.”
“I don’t think you can blame Paul” for the lack of movement over the past two years, said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “His approach has been far more constructive than the president’s. He’s led.” If Democrats put a serious deal on the table, Graham said, “I think [Ryan] very much will embrace a compromise.”
Ryan, too, blames the president. “Obama didn’t want success,” he said in November. He said that became apparent seven months earlier when Obama responded to the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission by rolling out his own deficit-reduction plan. Unaware that White House aides had invited Ryan to hear Obama’s speech at George Washington University — and that Ryan was sitting in the front row — the president blasted Ryan’s budget and renewed his call for higher taxes on the wealthy.