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With possible plans to run for president in 2016, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has to carefully assess his approach to budget talks designed to avert abrupt, end-of-year tax hikes and automatic spending reductions set to begin next year.
Ryan — who chairs the House Budget Committee and was GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate — was tapped by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, a few weeks ago to participate in leadership discussions on the fiscal cliff, along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.
But the Wisconsin Republican, who has not made a decision about running in 2016, must be on guard in case any deal becomes an albatross that opens him up to criticism from potential presidential primary rivals or allows him to be cast as obstructionist in a general election.
“He must walk a fine line of being supportive of leadership while keeping a careful distance if the deal looks worse for Republicans,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist who served as a top aide to former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
“It is a delicate balancing act,” Bonjean, now at Singer Bonjean Strategies, said. “If the deal looks unfavorable to Republicans, he would need to distance himself from it in a responsible and appropriate way.”
Ryan declined to comment on his role or his political prospects.
But Bonjean said there could also be an upside if the deal includes any ideas from the Republican budget resolution he authored, which was passed by the House the past two years.
“If a deal includes solutions in the Ryan budget, he could claim some credit,” Bonjean said.
However, it’s not clear what, if any, those ideas would be. Democrats hammered Ryan and Republicans during the campaign over that budget blueprint, which included a proposal that opponents said could ultimately charge Medicare recipients more for benefits. The plan would turn Medicare into a voucher for future senior citizens.
Those budget plans helped launch Ryan as a conservative firebrand, eager to defend his ideas and happy to run on them. He became a tea party darling and was chosen by Romney, in part, because of his conservative bona fides.
“Participating in the talks is a plus because he is delivering the leadership that he campaigned on,” Bonjean noted.
Others agreed that the fiscal talks could be a good platform for Ryan in 2016.