That talk puts him in the conversation with Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
Since the election, Mr. Ryan has endorsed the “principles” outlined by Mr. Rubio in his push for comprehensive reform — a pitch that includes some kind of path to legal status for some immigrants living in the United States illegally.
Despite the pleas of Mr. Christie, Mr. Ryan voted against two measures directing more money toward the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
And Mr. Ryan voted for the “fiscal cliff” deal that made George W. Bush-era tax rates permanent for 98 percent of Americans, and raises taxes on the nation’s top earners — a deal that potential rivals Mr. Rubio and Mr. Paul voted against.
Mr. Ryan defended the vote, saying the risk was worth the reward of locking in lower tax rates for most Americans — something that Republicans failed to do on Mr. Bush’s watch.
“In short, there was no way we’d get a better deal,” he said, adding that without it, every taxpayer would have paid more. “Our economy would have gone into a nose dive. Once I came to that conclusion, my decision was simple: If you think a bill has to pass, then you vote for it.”
The Club for Growth, an influential anti-spending group, opposed the proposal because it increased taxes on marginal income, capital gains and dividends, and delayed the $110 billion in automatic spending cuts — “breaking the promise made by Congress in 2011 to cut government spending.”
Asked about Mr. Ryan’s vote, Chris Chocola, the group’s president, shied away from blasting the eight-term congressman. Mr. Chocola said that several conservatives — including Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Mr. Chocola’s predecessor — viewed the proposal as the lesser of two evils.
“At times, we don’t see eye-to-eye on some of the votes, but shifting the conference toward entitlement reform is a real sign of leadership,” Mr. Chocola said.