Returning to a new postelection reality on Capitol Hill, House Republicans say Rep. Paul Ryan will continue to be a major player with their caucus after his failed bid as Mitt Romney’s running mate, but that the budget he pushed through the House the past two years no longer does enough to clean up the nation’s fiscal mess.
As Republicans take stock of their defeats in an election that at times was defined by Mr. Ryan’s budget, conservatives say the House Budget Committee chairman’s next spending blueprint will have to be bolder in order to deal with a federal government that continued to plunge deeper into debt.
For his part, Mr. Ryan, bowing to political realities of the election, this week told his hometown newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that the deck is stacked against his budget blueprint surviving the divided Congress that voters sent to Washington.
“It’s clear we have a country that is divided among a number of issues,” Mr. Ryan said. “We thought that the best thing for the country is to get ahead of our fiscal problems. We offered specific solutions. It didn’t go our way. So obviously we’re disappointed by that.
“We’re not going to be able to fix this country’s fiscal problems along the way I thought we should have. Whether people intended it or not, we’ve got divided government.”
For the first time since suffering the only electoral loss of his political career, Mr. Ryan returned to Washington this week and received a standing ovation Wednesday during a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference.
Afterward, lawmakers said the election has enhanced Mr. Ryan’s standing as a fiscal power broker.
“He is probably our best spokesperson for how serious the fiscal situation is and what needs to be done to remedy it — to put us back on a path that we can actually sustain,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House.
“I think all of us were impressed with how Paul handled himself on the campaign trail. So I hope he is right in the middle of it, and my expectation is that he is king to be.”
Mr. Jordan said that the Ryan budget is “1,000 times better than what Democrats have put forward,” while Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican, said the Ryan budget remains the “only reasonable, sensible solution that has been on the table.”
Mr. Jordan, Mr. Huelskamp and others, though, also said the Ryan budget is a “minimum” starting point because the nation’s fiscal picture has worsened. “We cannot survive economically even going down that path,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican. “I am going to be looking for an RSC that gets us there before we go off the fiscal waterfall.”
Mr. Ryan has written two budgets that passed the House without a single Democratic vote, only to die in the U.S. Senate.
Both of the plans aimed to keep tax rates low and slash spending, including to the nation’s entitlement programs — Social Security and Medicare, the biggest drivers of federal spending.
In his latest plan, called the “Path to Prosperity,” Mr. Ryan called for Medicare to be reshaped into a voucherlike program for seniors, and slash Medicaid spending while block granting it to the states. He also called for deep cuts to discretionary spending programs.
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, pounced on the pick, warning that the Romney-Ryan budget plan would “end Medicare as we know it” and force seniors to pay more for their insurance coverage.
Exit polls from the presidential election suggest the attacks worked, as more of the voters surveyed said they trusted President Obama more when it came to handling Medicare, while Mr. Romney held a slim edge over who is best equipped to handle the deficit and the economy.
In his interview with the Journal Sentinel, Mr. Ryan said Congress is going to have to find a way to work across party lines “because these fiscal issues are getting worse, not better, because of time.”
“I’m very worried about our economy. I’m extremely worried about our debt,” he said, adding, “I do want to be part of the solution.”