The one budget heavyweight seemingly unaffected was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan, who earlier had been mulling a presidential bid and who dismissed the supercommittee’s chances so long as President Obama was in office, opted out of service on the panel.
Now, as leaders on Capitol Hill and the White House work to head off the across-the-board budget cuts generated by the supercommittee’s failure, Ryan finds himself central to the process and facing a different set of complications.
Ryan must now grapple with the consequences of a much higher profile after being selected as the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, in part because of his reputation as a budget cutter and spending reformer.
Many Republicans say Ryan’s new prominence makes his involvement in the upcoming fiscal cliff negotiations inevitable.
“Republicans want their best players on the field during the fiscal cliff conversation,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and Capitol Hill veteran. “If Paul Ryan decided not to participate, it would squander his political capital rather than enhance it. . . . He talked so often during the campaign about the country heading toward fiscal ruin, and now he has an opportunity to engage and influence where the fiscal cliff goes.”
Last week, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) tapped Ryan and two other top committee heads — Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) — to take part in the House GOP leadership’s daily management meetings.
Beyond the next few weeks of deal making, there is the question of what Ryan’s involvement in the fiscal cliff talks will mean for his political future.
In the 2012 presidential primary, all the Republican White House contenders said they would oppose a hypothetical debt deal containing a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases.
If he pursues a 2016 presidential bid, Ryan — who voted against the Simpson-Bowles commission’s recommendations in addition to declining to serve on the debt supercommittee — could well face a primary opponent who uses his involvement in crafting a deal against him, especially if it raises taxes.
Ryan’s office did not respond to requests for comment on his potential role in the fiscal talks. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a longtime ally of Ryan’s and a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said Ryan will be critical in crafting a deal with Democrats and in rounding up GOP support for any eventual compromise.
“Nobody knows these numbers better than Paul,” Price said. “And then in selling it not just to conservatives but in making sure that the negotiation is put in an honest light with the conference . . . Paul . . . will have a big hand in that.”