Paul Ryan, the former Republican vice-presidential nominee and Wisconsin congressman, has been a quiet presence on Capitol Hill during the shutdown. He hasn’t been a major force during closed-door conference meetings, and he’s not doing a ton of press. But that doesn’t mean he’s a silent player. In fact, according to several top House Republicans, it’s Ryan, more than anyone, who’s now shaping the leadership’s internal thinking, especially when it comes to mapping out a strategy for the upcoming debt-limit battle.
Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor trust Ryan; he’s an essential, if unofficial, member of the leadership team; and they’re looking for him to guide them on any emerging deal. As Boehner and Cantor manage the day-to-day messaging on the shutdown — small-ball CR votes – it’s Ryan’s who helping them with the big picture before the bipartisan talks inevitably begin.
Ryan’s allies say he’s not a fan, at all, of using the CR as a political battleground, and he’s selling this point behind the scenes. His view, they add, is that the CR standoff is clearly not going to end with a “clean” funding bill, so instead of encouraging that impossible dream, it’s time to plot out a viable next step — and that means swallowing hard, enduring the shutdown showdown, and moving toward a broader budget deal. “That’s what I think we need: a forcing action to bring two parties together,” Ryan told reporters earlier this week.
Why this matters: If the GOP leadership is working with Ryan to plan for the debt limit, and negotiations with the Senate are nonexistent, then it’s unlikey they expect the shutdown to end anytime soon. As one House Republican explains, the leadership has, in essence, nearly given up on the idea that Senate majority leader Harry Reid will concede anything, at least in the short term, so they’re looking at how to potentially tie the debt limit to the CR impasse to force Reid’s hand. Ryan, as budget chairman and the House’s conservative whisperer, is at the center of these speculative strategy talks — he knows, in fiscal and political terms, what he wants to achieve, and what his colleagues are likely to support.
Ryan seems to have expected, all along, that the CR debate would unfold this way — crashing into the debt limit and creating a discussion beyond government funding. “I think it will fold into the debt-ceiling fight. I think that’s inevitable, and preferable in my opinion,” he said in an interview with NRO last week. “I like combining all of our leverage, which is sequester and the debt limit.”