Most people viewed the budget deal crafted by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray in the context of the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, but that group may not have included Paul Ryan. After a solid campaign performance as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, the assumption was that Ryan wanted to take a shot at the top spot in the next opportunity. The Hill’s Russell Berman talked to Ryan’s colleagues on Capitol Hill, who believe Ryan has other plans in mind:
In interviews The Hill conducted with more than two dozen House Republicans from across the ideological spectrum over the last couple of weeks, many of Ryan’s colleagues said they are doubtful he will run for president in 2016. Most believe that concerns for his young family will lead him to lay claim to the job he’s always wanted: chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. …
The eight-term legislator has long made it clear, both in occasional public comments and privately to colleagues, that the job he wants most is Ways and Means, where he could turn his controversial, nonbinding budgets into authorizing legislation reforming the tax code and the safety net programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Ryan on Tuesday told The Wall Street Journal that he plans to lead the Ways and Means Committee in the next Congress.
The current chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), will be term-limited out of the post in early 2015, and the consensus is it is Ryan’s for the taking. The post is big enough that it is unlikely Ryan would be able to lead the panel and run for higher office at the same time.
In his WSJ interview, Ryan confirmed his ambitions at Ways and Means. But that doesn’t mean it’s his for the asking:
The top job on Ways and Means would present major distractions, and potential pitfalls, for anyone seeking higher office. But it could also provide a platform for Republican messaging on economic issues as Democrats maintain a focus on issues of economic inequality. Success with a tax overhaul could also further burnish Mr. Ryan’s credentials as someone who can work across the aisle at a time of intense partisan gridlock.
Ways and Means has broad jurisdiction over many of the nation’s most important but difficult policy problems, from tax and trade policy to Social Security, Medicare and social services. It is the oldest committee in Congress. Its current leaders, particularly Mr. Camp, are eager to move a tax overhaul that would lower rates for individuals and corporations while closing loopholes, in order to generate growth and make the system simpler and fairer. In the interview, Mr. Ryan said those would be his priorities as well.
Many Democrats believe such changes would make the tax system less fair, not more. Some also question whether the changes would produce much growth. President Barack Obama has showed little interest in overhauling individual rates, and sharply criticized Mitt Romney’s tax-cut plan in 2012.
The Republicans have established term limits in the House that require each chairman to relinquish the gavel after six years. And Mr. Ryan may have some competition for the job. A spokeswoman for Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, who has more seniority on Ways and Means than Mr. Ryan, said he plans to seek the chairmanship when Mr. Camp vacates the job. But Mr. Ryan’s fundraising prowess and stature in the party would make him an overwhelming favorite to succeed Mr. Camp.
For Ryan, it may come down to choosing the most effective means to improving policy. He could try to make a quixotic run for the GOP nomination in 2016 while several governors — including his own — will make much more realistic and competitive candidates for the post, while having to protect his prospects by not doing much of anything for the next few years. The other option will be to reposition himself to quarterback real tax reform in the House while the Republicans take control of the Senate in 2014 and hopefully the White House in 2016 to make substantive reforms possible.
At 43, he can choose later to run for governor or Senator as a more-realistic springboard to the presidency with that kind of solid reform on his record. At his age, this is not an either-or proposition, and there are different ways (and means) to get to the same end goal.