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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 12/ 1/2010

House Republican leadership: a preview

By Jennifer Rubin

If you want to know about the House GOP game plan for the lame duck session or 2011, you can't do better than sitting down with Rep. Paul Ryan, the wonkish congressman from Wisconsin whose proposal for entitlement reform and his role as the next House budget committee chairman put him in the driver's seat for the Republicans' key issues. I caught up with him in his office -- which is filled this week with stacks of orange packing crates for the pending move to the Longworth building's second floor.

A member of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, Ryan is enthusiastic about the final report scheduled to be released today. He plainly sees it as a major breakthrough: a center-right consensus on real fiscal reform. He acknowledges that the chairmen's plan released last month struck many conservatives as more responsible and detailed that they expected. With a preponderance of Democrats on the committee, conservatives feared that at best it would produce pablum, at worst a proposal for a huge tax hike. That didn't happen, Ryan says, largely because of the Democratic co-chairman, Erskine Bowles, whom he terms "a serious person." Ryan explains: "He is a true centrist Democrat. He just wanted to advance the debate." He adds admiringly that Bowles didn't have to go back to "check" with Democrats. As for the Dems' nearly unanimous negative reaction, Ryan says bluntly that he wasn't surprised a bit. (He suggests that conservatives will be even more pleased with the final version, which he indicates will do more to address Obama's health-care plan, an omission in the previewed report that alarmed conservatives.)

Ryan says that he expects the lame duck session will avoid committing to spending cuts and instead coast through on the continuing resolution, which is set to run out this Friday, but which can be easily extended with a simple date change by the House majority. ( A number of key Republican aides agree with this, pointing out there's been no preview and no legislative "vehicle" put forth to suggest anything but a new "CR.") Ryan says that it's up to the Republicans to show their "response to Obamaism." The budget, he says, should " be the defining document" for Republicans to explain how they want to "preempt a debt crisis." He warns, "We aren't at the point of European austerity measures," but we will be, he predicts, if we continue down our current path.

As for ObamaCare, Ryans says "there will be a big vote" on repeal in the first quarter of 2011. But after trying that -- likely to no avail in the Senate, unless fear grips many of the nearly two dozen Democrats who will be up for reelection in 2012 -- the House leaders intend to hold votes, again and again, on discrete health-care issues: the individual mandate, the tax paperwork requirements imposed on business, and defunding, among others. By 2012, the voting records of every House member will be crystal clear. And as far as the Republicans are concerned, the more votes the better. They read the polls, see that ObamaCare remains unpopular, and are banking on it becoming even more so with each new revelation.

Ryan, like key staffers whom I've spoken with since the election, says he is impressed with the new crop of GOP congressmen. Yes, there are Tea Party upstarts, but not in nearly the same numbers as on the Senate side. In general, the new Republican House members are those scouted and drafted by the leadership. Ryan calls them "very accomplished people," including "many conservative state legislators and talented people from the private sector." He says these aren't lifetime politicians, but rather "cause types" dedicated to addressing the country's economic woes.

As a Republican source told me, the new members are "lawyers, doctors, state legislators -- these are solid Republicans." Translation: the perceived conflict between Tea Partyers and House veterans is overblown. And when called on to be be team players, Republican operatives are eager to point out, even Tea Party favorites like Michele Bachmann avoid fights (as she did in the contest for the House conference chair). There is remarkable unity on priorities: The focus is on jobs and fiscal issues. Immigration? It's not anywhere near the top of the list (except for immigration exclusionists, such as Rep. Steve King).

Ryan also downplays any conflict between foreign policy hawks and budget cutters. He says that the Pentagon shouldn't be exempt from scrutiny and praises the debt commission for identifying waste "we should go after." But he cautions that defense is a "primary function" of government and, given the multiple wars and hot spots, we need to focus on cutting waste and improving the budget process. There is no appetite, other Capitol Hill Republicans agree, for slashing defense spending given our international challenges.

Ryan is realistic about the role the House can play. He estimates that it has a year or so to get things done, but that may be "optimistic." Then, what he dubs the "silly season" (presidential and other campaigning) kicks in.

In conversations with Ryan and other key Republicans on the Hill, one adjective that comes to mind is "sober." House leaders and aides certainly don't overestimate their ability to redirect Obama's foreign policy, for example. Oversight will be "serious" one advisor tells me, but they have no illusions that foreign policy can be run from the House.

What about the prospect of presidential candidates taking pot shots at them to bolster their own outsider status? The House leaders are aware of the danger, but they'll aim to rack up votes so that the 2012 candidates "run toward the House rather than say these people are idiots, those people are idiots, so elect me!" says a plugged-in Republican.

Now, if it is true in war that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, then it is equally accurate to say that no legislative game plan survives contact with the opposition -- or the real world. But House Republican leaders have one goal, and that's to demonstrate what a conservative alternative to Obamaism looks like. If they can do that and avoid past mistakes -- their own and by the Pelosi Democrats they are replacing -- it will be quite an achievement.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 1, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  House GOP  
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Next: The myth of Palin's frontrunner status


I am severely disappointed in Eric Cantor's absurd comments regarding preexisting conditions. They are utterly senseless. There is simply no logical justification for allowing people to purchase health care "insurance" after they are sick! It is also a backdoor way of pushing through government control of the health care industry. Cantor needs to grow a backbone. He must tell the sometimes confused American public the truth.

Posted by: DavidThomson | December 1, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

DavidThomson, this blog entry is about Paul Ryan, not Eric Cantor. Nevertheless, your post about "Eric Cantor's absurd comments" raises a question. You seem to believe that everyone with a preexisting health condition did something to bring in upon him or herself. What about people with congenital conditions? Do you think that insurers should be able to reject these people once they reach adulthood, leaving them unable to achieve insurance? They did nothing to cause or bring about their own illness.

I assume, from your comment, that neither you nor anyone close to you has a preexisting condition. For your health and your financial sake, I sincerely hope that this remains the case.

Posted by: CherieOK | December 1, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Excellent informational article. It is good to know there are leadership people in DC who take their jobs seriously and are willing to confront the economic challenges facing us. Continuing to push the debt down the road and piling on more will sink us all, savers and spenders alike. It is time to talk turkey!

Posted by: PamK | December 1, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

The Heritage Foundation says:

"Speaking to the French Minister of Defense this February, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates purportedly said that “Russian democracy has disappeared” and that “the government was an oligarchy run by the security services.” Fast forward to a CNN broadcast scheduled to air tonight, where the Batman of Russia’s oligarchy Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, threatened the U.S. with a new arms race unless Senators acquiesce to President Barack Obama’s New START treaty. Putin tells CNN it would take “a very dumb nature” for the Senate not to pass the treaty and that if they don’t give in, “then we’ll have to react somehow,” including the deployment of new nuclear missile technology."

Posted by: avatar666 | December 1, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

"They did nothing to cause or bring about their own illness."

Your point is not even slightly relevant. It may be well meaning---but it is logically absurd. We have no right to force private institutions to pay for one's misfortunes. I should also not be able to purchase fire insurance while the house is burning!

I did indeed confuse Paul Ryan with Eric Cantor. Both of these gentlemen seem too willing to place their wet finger into the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

Posted by: DavidThomson | December 1, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

It will be nice to have some Republicans in leadership who care about the deficit rather than just how much pork they can steer to their constituents.

Posted by: keepandbear | December 1, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Having seen him a number of times, Ryan has charisma and will run for president sometime. He has to get out of the House first, which is a graveyard for presidential ambitions. Look for him in the 2016 race.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 1, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Puff piece. Period. Look at Ezra's interview with Ryan for a more nuanced version.

Posted by: nickthap | December 1, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

So, even though we spend $775 bil a year on defense, it shouldn't be "slashed." Thanks for reminding me why I am not a Republican.

Posted by: nickthap | December 1, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Explain to me why Ryan, the "deficit hawk," voted for Medicare Part D?

Posted by: nickthap | December 1, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Commentators on the right keep advancing the idea that Ryan is some kind of serious thinker about economic matters. They must get this idea from reading other commentators on the right. If they paid attention to what Ryan actually says and writes, they would see that it is more of the Republican myth that deregulation and tax cuts are the solution to every problem. He's about as deep on economics as Reagan was.

By the way, Rubin's bio link doesn't work. Who is she, and why should anyone care what she thinks?

Posted by: turningfool | December 1, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Who is Jennifer Rubin? Among other things, she's the second to last living person who can tell the difference between "discrete" and "discreet." On behalf of the English language, thanks, Jennifer!

Posted by: margaretball7 | December 2, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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