Representative Paul Ryan hasn’t heard from President Obama since their lunch meeting in early March, the House budget committee chairman told reporters on Wednesday.
“Not that I know of,” Ryan said when asked if the president had made any effort to follow up on their meeting, which he noted was “the first time we ever had a conversation” since Obama took office. “I don’t really know him very well.”
During a briefing at National Review’s Washington, D.C., office, Ryan said he had hoped Obama would “lean into the problems a little bit more” at the start of his second term, but “unfortunately we got more of the same.”
He also dismissed the president’s latest budget, which was unveiled today, as little more than a “status quo” document that fails to address the nation’s debt problem. “I want to get an agreement,” Ryan said. “It’s been a long time, and we’re all getting a little frustrated about that.”
The budget chairman argued that regular order in Congress was a preferable path to direct negotiations with Obama. “I don’t see this as a couple of people having some kind of back-room negotiation. I see regular order proceeding,” he said. “We have to start talking to each other as legislators. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Both chambers have already passed budgets of their own — the Senate for the first time in four years — and are set to enter a conference committee in an effort to iron out a compromise. That won’t be easy, given the stark differences between the parties, Ryan said, but lawmakers at least needed to engage in that conversation. “Looking at these budgets, it’s difficult to see where [common ground] exists,” he said. “At least the vehicle is in place.”
Ryan cited tax reform and energy legislation as possible areas of compromise — issues that have typically enjoyed support from moderate Democrats. The prospects for a large deal were slim, he argued, but that shouldn’t discourage lawmakers from trying to make progress on modest measures that could help grow the economy. “I don’t like to talk of grand bargains because ‘grand bargain’ suggests we’re going to fix the entire problem,” he said. “What I’d like to see is a down payment on the problem.”
Ryan declined to comment further on the particulars of his meeting with the president, and whether he had been led to believe that this year’s White House budget would be a bolder effort to reach out to Republicans. “I think that the moment we’re in right now is trying to bridge gaps, not wedge them,” he said.