The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza profiles Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan for this week’s issue, in which Lizza details the 42-year-old Ryan’s rise to stardom within the Republican Party. That rise had an unlikely source: President Barack Obama.
Lizza writes how Obama legitimized Ryan’s plan within the Republican Party. Obama spoke at the House Republican retreat right after Ryan first introduced his plan in 2010, and he seemed accepting of some ideas while encouraging “healthy debate” on others. Three days later, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag shredded the Ryan budget. From Lizza’s story:
Ryan, who had always had a good relationship with Orszag, later described the briefing as the moment when “the budget director took that olive branch and hit me in the face with it.”
But the confrontation enhanced Ryan’s credibility among conservatives. He became the face of the opposition, someone who could attack the President’s policies with facts and figures. Indeed, at the retreat, Obama had mischaracterized Ryan’s Medicare plan, and Ryan politely corrected him. The two men sparred again the next month, at a summit at Blair House, over the President’s health-care plan. The details of Ryan’s proposals and his critiques of Obama’s mattered less than the fact that he was taking on the President. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders started to feel pressure to take a position on the Ryan budget.
Though Boehner did not immediately back the plan, pretty soon, conservative think tanks and tea-party types began to line up behind Ryan’s plan. In December 2010, Sarah Palin endorsed the Ryan budget in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. In January 2011, Ryan gave the rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union.
Later in 2011, Obama himself attacked the Ryan budget. By that point, Americans were about evenly split on Ryan’s plan vs. Obama’s, and Ryan had gained a national-party platform. Two days after Obama slammed the Ryan budget, only four House Republicans voted against it and it passed, 235 to 193.
“Whatever benefit the White House had seen in raising Ryan’s profile, his increasing power, and his credibility as the leading authority on conservative fiscal policy, soon made his imprimatur essential for any Republican trying to reach a compromise with Democrats,” Lizza writes.
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