From Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, congressional leaders have found a way to work with presidents on policy, even if they were ideological opposites. If Republicans win back the House, will they reach out in good faith to President Obama? National Review Online recently posed that question to Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee.
“Absolutely,” Ryan says. “But these days, it seems like every time you reach your hand out, you get burned . . . from what I can tell, President Obama has little interest in trying to triangulate like Bill Clinton or Dick Morris.” The president’s ideology, he laments, often gets in the way of negotiations. “Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan,” Ryan says. “At the expense of the American idea, he has doubled down on Chicago-style politics and class warfare, pitting one group against the other.”
Still, “We are all big boys, and we understand that we are in silly season,” Ryan says. Looking ahead, Ryan says that he hopes to potentially work with the president on new spending caps and, perhaps, on various aspects of trade legislation. “We would hopefully put a bunch of ideas out there — like a two-year extension of all tax cuts,” he says. “If you brought that bill to the floor, it would do well.” In such a scenario, the president, he says, hopefully would avoid “demagoguery” and “class-warfare” rhetoric — a must, he says, for good Hill–White House relations.
But when it comes to big economic ideas like entitlement reform, “I just don’t know,” Ryan says. “We owe it to the country to give them a very clear, honest choice. It is an ideological decision we are all going to have to make: Do we preserve the American idea or do we move toward a social democracy?”
With Obama in the White House until at least January 2013, Ryan says that the GOP “has to be careful not to promise a bunch of undeliverable policies” during the fall campaign season. If Republicans win, “we would be in a divided-government situation,” he explains. “We have to be realistic about what we can deliver with President Obama as our commander-in-chief. . . . A main focus will be undoing the damage of the president’s health-care plan and preparing alternatives.”
The GOP’s soon-to-be-revealed agenda, Ryan says, “will be a declaration of principles and aspirations.” Is Ryan comfortable with the plan adopting only parts of his fiscal roadmap? “If we get the majority, we would have a consensus budget,” he says. “You have to make compromises and take other ideas. The key test will be making sure we do everything we can to advance our founding principles.”