The benefits for both men are clear: Ryan keeps his head down during a negotiation that may end badly, and focuses on the big policy picture as he looks, perhaps, toward the 2016 presidential campaign. Boehner gets more leeway, because if Ryan is happy, the speaker’s critics (who are close with Ryan) tend to be more reserved. Though a handful of conservative members can’t stand Boehner, they implicitly take their cues from Ryan.

Since the election, Boehner has made several overtures, looking to sustain his helpful bond with Ryan. For example, he won Ryan’s appreciation last month when he granted Ryan a waiver to keep his chairmanship. Other chairmen lost their gavel, due to conference rules, which limit committee chairmen to six-year terms. Ryan, however, was able to hold on to his post. Ryan’s colleagues say that gesture solidified Ryan’s relationship with the speaker.

Boehner also invited Ryan to sit in on the fiscal-cliff strategy sessions. Ryan has participated in nearly every meeting with the House Republican leadership and has been urged to give his candid take on Boehner’s playbook. Even though he’s not a member of the elected leadership team, the elected members view him as an equal.