Patty Murray and Paul D. Ryan are lawmakers on the rise, and their recent budget framework might not be a mere passing of ships in the night — especially if their upward trajectories continue on parallel paths.
The Democratic senator and Republican representative like to downplay their personal ambitions, even though Ryan ran for vice president at 42 and Murray has become Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's go-to person for political and policy puzzles.
Both have been mentioned as potential future leaders of their respective parties, even though those prospects are likely years away. In that event, the Murray-Ryan deal of 2013 may be an early harbinger of what could become a significant working relationship in years to come.
Aides to the Washington Democrat and Wisconsin Republican declined to comment on the personal stakes each lawmaker has in their successful budget negotiations, but House and Senate sources noted they are in a much better position for having come together than they would have been had they failed."I think that they both got something that can be used as a credential no matter what they do in the future, and that is a bipartisan legislative achievement — not a massive one, but a bipartisan legislative achievement on a typically controversial issue," one House GOP leadership aide said. "If you're going to make a case for leadership in the House, getting something done is important. It's a prerequisite for achievement."
Ryan has not been shy about his intention to take the House Ways and Means Committee gavel in the next Congress, a position that is term-limited to six years. And Reid told CQ Roll Call last month that he has no intention of stepping down as leader anytime soon.
Those time frames, however, line up pretty nicely for Ryan and Murray — young relative to many of their colleagues — to ascend at roughly the same time. Such a possibility wasn't at the forefront of their thinking, aides say, but the amount of time and energy the two spent before a deal was struck — through months of breakfasts and meetings, and even a victory lap last month on NBC's "Meet the Press" — reflects that both savvy politicians saw the value of investing time with the other.
On NBC, Murray and Ryan touted their getting-to-know-you process as central to a deal.
"I think it is a step forward that shows that there can be other breakthroughs and compromise if you take the time to get to know somebody, know what their passions are and know how you can work together," Murray said.
Ryan agreed. "We spent a lot of time just getting to know each other, talking, understanding each others' principles. We basically learned that if we required the other to violate a core principle, we were going to get nowhere and we were going to just keep gridlock. Then we spent a number of weeks finding where common ground existed and we went through this budget — where's the waste, where's the corporate welfare, what reforms can we do, what do we agree on — and then we put that together and that's what this resulted in. We also wanted to try to make this divided government work at least at a minimum, basic, functioning level and so we had the impetus to do that."
House Republicans have a strong hold on their majority, based on a redistricting advantage gained last cycle. But as the national GOP continues to struggle with broad demographic change, House Republicans likely will have to change their political trajectory toward the end of the decade to maintain that hold — a scenario that could advantage a Republican who has a proven record of working with Democrats. Ryan has a way to go, considering the ire he drew from Democrats with his previous budgets, but between this deal and the tax rewrite aides say he wants to accomplish in his tenure at Ways and Means, the next few years could prove to be formative ones.
If Speaker John A. Boehner's tumultuous tenure were to end, Ryan appears well-positioned in any potential race against Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia or Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California. While Cantor appears to be the favorite for speaker in Boehner's absence, the House Republican Conference has proved unpredictable over the past few years. Additionally, Ryan may opt to spend a few years in the trenches at Ways and Means to further build his conservative bona fides, which have been modestly damaged by his push for an immigration overhaul as well as the budget deal that some conservatives felt did not achieve cost-cutting goals.
The internal politics might be more complicated on the Senate Democratic side, with three top lieutenants under Reid.
When asked about Murray and her ascent within his ranks in a December interview, Reid praised her leadership, noting that she had simultaneously led the supercommittee while also serving as chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (a job she's held twice). "This is a strong woman, a strong person I should say, and I think she's one of the finest senators around here," Reid said, adding that he didn't really know what might happen to the Democratic leadership if he were to "drop dead."
Most political observers count the No. 3 Senate Democrat, Conference Vice Chairman Charles E. Schumer of New York, as the odds-on favorite to replace Reid should he step down or retire. Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois could be in the running, too. Both currently outrank Murray on the leadership ladder.
Anything on the Hill can change quickly, of course, and Murray would be able to make the case that she worked with Ryan as opposed to just crafting successful political rhetoric using him as a foil, and that could be helpful to both of them during the next leadership shake-up.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.