Rep. Paul Ryan, the fast-talking, number-crunching Republican from Wisconsin, caused a stir last week when he called out his own party for not offering Americans a substantive alternative to Democrats in this fall’s elections.
“They’re talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, ‘Stay away from this. We’re going to win an election,’” Ryan said, speaking at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.
Ryan, in the second of back-to-back high profile speeches touting his “Road Map” plan that proposes to make long-term entitlement spending solvent, lumped Republicans in with Democrats as having failed to talk seriously about the nation’s debt and deficit problem.
“Unfortunately, you know, when I jumped in the pool and encouraged other people to jump in the pool, we haven’t had many other folks swimming around. And that’s from both sides of the aisle, I would say,” Ryan said.
House Republican leadership aides downplayed the remarks.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who figures to become House Speaker if the GOP regains control, said Boehner “has said that Rep. Ryan’s ‘Roadmap’ is a strong, long-term plan for conservative reform, and he thanked Rep. Ryan for offering it.”
In an interview with The Daily Caller, Ryan said he was not trying to embarrass his party or his party’s leadership, but acknowledged that in speaking twice last week – at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and then at Brookings – he was trying to fill a leadership vacuum within the GOP.
“We are a decentralized party right now from a leadership standpoint. We don’t have some obvious nominee, and who knows who that’s going to be. So I just feel like it’s important for some of us to step in and help define the moment,” Ryan said.
But he added: “I’m not calling my party out … I’m just adding ideas to the pile to try and move the debate forward.”
The 40-year old Ryan is a rising young star in the GOP. He has been named by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as one of her favorite conservative leaders, and is one of the few Republican lawmakers to hold his own in one-on-one debate with President Obama.
He is not without his critics on the right. Ryan’s conservative bona fides are viewed with skepticism by some who question why he voted for the $700 billion TARP bailout in the fall of 2008, as well as for auto bailouts and taxes on AIG bonuses in 2009. (Ryan explained these votes in an interview this past February).
And there is video of Fox News personality Glenn Beck attacking Ryan floating around the internet, though Beck’s criticisms resulted in Ryan going on his radio show the next day, explaining that what Beck had read about him was misquoted, and relating his political philosophy in full. Beck, in response, said: “I love you.”
Obama and his outgoing budget director Peter Orszag have both acknowledged Ryan’s plan as a serious one, though they also disagree with it and have elevated it in part so that partisan Democrats can use it as a punching bag in a year when, in fact, most Republicans are trying to say as little as possible about what they plan to do if they regain the majority.