Paul Ryan Comes Out Swinging

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, wants it known that he's done licking his wounds.

"I wanted to stay out of it from the election to the Inauguration," he said at a breakfast this morning hosted by the Wall Street Journal. It was "the gracious thing to do."

That was two days ago.

Now, the House Budget Committee chairman is girding for perpetual fiscal war with the White House and congressional Democrats. House Republicans, he said, will settle for nothing less than a “big down payment” on the debt in coming months as Congress tries to forestall the scheduled March 1 start of $110 billion in automatic spending cuts and confronts the need to extend the government’s spending authority past March 27.

Still, he said Republicans know they lost the election and "have to set our expectations accordingly” and pursue their agenda “in a realistic way.”

Although he was short on details, that call for measure was hard to square with his promise to soon unveil a plan to balance the federal budget in 10 years, without any tax increases. This sounds like a tall order given that his previous budget plan envisaged achieving the same goal over 30 years and contained deep cuts to social programs and the partial privatization of Medicare.

Is he worried that this appetite for battle will alienate voters, who, if polls are to be believed, already show extremely low regard for Republicans in Congress? "We don't have much to lose, do we?" he said.

In any case, he believes sticking to principle will pay off in the long run. His experience traveling across the country during the presidential election gave him a "grasp for the moment we are in" and made him "a lot less risk averse and focused on doing the right thing."

One thing he learned is that Republicans have to do a "better job of explaining why our ideas are better for everybody." The election, he said, wasn't a "rejection of our principles."

So was it hard to attend the Inauguration? Even though he was sitting about "eight rows behind" where he had pictured himself during the campaign, the event had its perks. He met the rap star Jay-Z, "a very nice guy."

(Max Berley is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

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