Speaker Paul D. Ryan, after two weeks on the job, said he has “no idea” how long he may lead the House, committing only to the 14 months left in the current Congress during an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
No matter the duration of his tenure, the Wisconsin Republican told Scott Pelley of CBS News he is willing to risk losing the job in pursuit of major policy initiatives including tax and entitlement overhauls. The speaker also said in the interview that aired Sunday he and President Barack Obama could find common ground on select issues.
As for his own future, Ryan portrayed an uncertainty that belies his otherwise smooth start in the House's top job. Given the chaos following Speaker John A. Boehner's resignation announcement, a short speakership for Ryan could once again embroil the Republican Party.
“I was just planning on serving out my tenure as Ways and Means chair and then going, finding out something else to do with my life,” he said during the interview taped last week in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. “I really don't know how long this is going to last. This wasn't something I was planning on doing in the first place.”
Ryan may have removed himself from much of the minutiae of a tax overhaul when he gave up the Ways and Means gavel, but he said he still intends to work toward “dramatically” simplifying the tax code. He said he'd like to collapse the existing rates down to two or three and drop business tax rates.
On the politically riskier matter of overhauling entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, Ryan said House Republicans as a conference have not yet decided whether to back raising the retirement age to be eligible for full benefits.
“I have always believed, and I've been public about this for many years, for younger people, when they age, we should change the retirement age to reflect longevity,” he told “60 Minutes,” according to a CBS transcript. “And the good news on these issues is that if we reform them for the next generation now, we can guarantee ... that people in or near retirement don't have any changes in their benefits.”
Though he already has said he would not work with Obama on changing immigration law, Ryan said he's willing to cooperate with the president on other issues such as highways, funding the government and tax policy. “Those are three things that will produce certainty in this economy in the next few months. Let’s go do that," he said.
As for the conservative House Freedom Caucus which forced out Boehner, Ryan said he would try to lead by “laying a positive agenda and a vision out there.”
The interview also offered a glimpse into Ryan’s family life, something that held him back initially from pursuing the speaker’s gavel. His wife, Janna, consented to a rare TV interview.
She said when her husband first told her House Republicans wanted him to serve as speaker, she was sitting in her car outside a Salvation Army store and told him to say no. Her concern was raising their three children — ages 10, 12 and 13 — in the glaring public spotlight.
Ryan himself said he believed the speakership was best for an "empty-nester," given the demands on travel and fundraising. Janna Ryan said she has come now to view his new role as something that “felt right.”
Pelley also noted that Ryan, who at 16 years old found his father dead of a heart attack, comes from a line of men who died in their 50s. Ryan is 45.
“I focus on just being healthy. I don't want this to happen to my kids, to Janna,” Ryan said. “It gave me the other sense that life is short, you better make the most of it.”
Related: How the House Freedom Caucus Got Behind Paul Ryan Ryan’s Choice and the Freedom Caucus Fallout See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.