Democrats on both sides of the Rotunda see Paul D. Ryan as a reliable legislator, but someone likely to face the same pitfalls as his predecessor if elected speaker.
As the Wisconsin Republican spent Wednesday reaching out to the various factions of the House GOP conference, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said in a brief interview there were many aspects of Ryan's background he feels "good about." He cited the 2013 budget agreement with Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and a 2013 appearance in Chicago with Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., in support of an immigration overhaul , saying the latter "showed more courage than most people in the House Republican caucus." Durbin said it was too soon to tell what kinds of policies Ryan, now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, would pursue as speaker, but he expects "to see some conservative suggestions that I might not agree with."
"But," Durbin said, "if they're offered in good faith and with an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, it'll really improve the climate between the House and the Senate."
Murray told CQ Roll Call she had a lot of respect for Ryan, but added, "He and I disagree on numerous issues." Like Durbin, Murray believes Ryan wants the country to succeed, "and he doesn't want to see the country think Congress is dysfunctional."
For all the plaudits from the opposing party, Ryan is still the architect of the GOP budgets Democrats have loathed for years.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who worked opposite Ryan at the House Budget Committee, pointed to the contrast between Ryan's budget plan as a counterpoint to his ability to work across the aisle.
"What I know about the Ryan budget is that it's not good for the country. It’s not a governing document," Van Hollen said in a C-SPAN interview. "So if you are looking at whether or not the Ryan budget blueprint is the kind of document that brings people together, absolutely not. It’s a very ideologically edged document that would be bad for the country."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is among the Democrats who have done business with Ryan on a variety of subjects, including a Medicare policy paper and trade legislation, and he has talked about advancing a chronic-care proposal with Ryan.
"It's no secret that Chairman Ryan and I have worked together on a variety of issues, and in particular right now we are working very closely to resolve the customs bill," the Finance Committee's ranking Democrat said. "The two of us know that many Americans say, "Hey, you guys in Washington are working on passing these new bills, how about enforcing the trade laws that are on the books?'"
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who recently spoke with Ryan about a deal on international taxes and infrastructure, told CQ Roll Call that while Ryan knows the implications of failing to raise the debt ceiling, there is no guarantee he'll have any more control over the conference as speaker than Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, does.
"Paul Ryan knows better," said Schumer, who is likely to be the top-ranking Senate Democrat in 2017. "He's too smart an economist to not know, but he still has the same pull that Boehner and others had of the right wing, and not getting votes."
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., wouldn't weigh in on the race Wednesday during a pen-and-pad briefing. He said there has been no internal caucus discussions to support Ryan or anyone else. The Maryland Democrat said he hopes whoever becomes speaker is a uniter, "a bridge builder," like Boehner.
"I think Speaker Boehner has been a responsible voice within his party for doing the things that were necessary to do as an institution," Hoyer said.