by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Fred Barnes shares with Weekly Standard readers his assessment of 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan‘s recent approach to dealing with the president and his Democratic allies in Congress.
Two weeks ago, Ryan was crucial to overwhelming GOP support of a new Republican tactic on raising the debt limit. Instead of insisting on spending cuts equal to the amount of new debt, Republicans approved a three-month suspension of the limit along with the requirement that the Senate approve a budget for the first time in four years. Absent a budget, senators wouldn’t receive their congressional pay. In the House, 33 Republicans voted no. Had Ryan opposed the plan, many more would surely have used his cover to justify a vote against it, and embarrassed Boehner.
Ryan’s support was consistent with what he calls “principled prudence.” This notion sounds odd coming from Ryan, known for his fearless approach to politics and policymaking. But with President Obama’s election to a second term, “we’ve had to readjust our expectations,” Ryan tells me.
This means, as I interpret it, that Republicans will exploit what leverage they have but not go beyond it in their demands on Obama. So they’ve given up on spending cuts as part of a debt-limit deal, since they lack the leverage to attain it. And they don’t want to be accused of flirting with a default and weakening an already weak economy.
But Republicans have the ability—the leverage—to determine the duration of an increase in the debt limit. Obama and Democrats would like to extend the limit for longer than three months. But in a mini-victory for Republicans, first the White House, then Senate majority leader Harry Reid caved. There was an added benefit: Democrats were split. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was noisily opposed.
Largely unnoticed was that one of Ryan’s goals—a debate over competing budgets—had been achieved. “When both parties put their solutions on the table, we can have a clear debate,” Ryan says. This is what Reid had avoided for the past four years and Ryan had advocated.