By Michael A. Memoli
2:45 PM CST, January 17, 2013
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Rep. Paul Ryan, re-emerging as a leader for House Republicans on the budget, said Thursday that the party was open to a short-term federal debt limit increase to prevent another politically damaging fiscal crisis and to kick-start negotiations with Democrats over further deficit reduction.
The House budget committee chairman said he briefed a Republican conference here on a series of looming fiscal battles: a potential default as the government hits its statutory debt limit as early as mid-February; expiration of the latest government funding plan in late March; and a spending reduction plan to replace across-the-board cuts, called a sequester, that were postponed for two months in the deal that averted the fiscal cliff.
During last month’s standoff with the White House over tax rates, polls showed a majority of Americans blamed Republicans for putting the nation’s economy at risk. The Republican getaway on a sprawling golf resort on the James River comes as the party regroups from that debacle, which resulted in income tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, over the objections of the GOP’s most conservative members.
The goal now, the Wisconsin Republican told reporters, is “to achieve consensus on a plan to proceed so that we can make progress on controlling spending and deficits and debt.”
“We believe that it would be wrong if we walk out of this spring with no achievement on debt reduction whatsoever, because that will hurt the country,” he said. “That will hurt the economy. And that’s why we believe we have to have a serious plan for tackling these things. And what we want to do is get the Senate and the White House involved in this process, involved in a discussion so that out of that comes progress on these issues.”
As such, Ryan said they were “discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and the White House involved in discussions in March.” But he repeatedly declined to expand on that statement, and what the party might ask for in return.
“All options are on the table,” he said.
That Ryan spoke to reporters was almost news itself. He has kept a low profile in the two months since he and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost their bid for the White House, even amid the recent wrangling over the fiscal cliff.
Ryan seemed to acknowledge that the GOP was out-maneuvered in that fight, in part because of its own internal divisions. The gathering here is an opportunity to give members “a very clear view of what’s coming so there are no surprises.”
“That means setting expectations accordingly so that we can proceed in a unified basis,” he said. “We have the time to do it, where before it was a little more rushed.”
He also said the party can leverage more spending cuts from the Democrats. One difficulty for Republicans in the fiscal cliff fight was the failure to reach a deal would give President Obama what he wanted: expiration of Bush-era tax cuts. The Democrats no longer have that advantage.
In addition to a strategy session on the next 90 days, members planned to attend another meeting Thursday on the party’s agenda for the full 113th Congress. On Wednesday, the party heard a keynote address from Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
On Friday the party will hear a presentation on “successful communication with minorities and women,” constituencies that abandoned the Romney-Ryan ticket and set the path for Obama’s second inauguration. Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook