Rep. Ryan Signals Willingness to Compromise on Budget

Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 12:21 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Reps. Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen presented opposing views Wednesday on the budgets unveiled in Congress this week, but both indicated a new willingness to negotiate that hasn't been present on Capitol Hill for some time.

Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Wednesday on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” program that he believes there's room to strike an agreement now that the House and Senate both have separate bills that can be taken to conference between the two chambers.

“What I'm pleased about is the Senate is actually producing a vehicle,” he said of the budget proposal unveiled by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray that raises revenue by $1 trillion and projects balanced spending by 2023, as Ryan's own budget does.

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“I don't like their budget,” he said, smiling. But he added that at least “a vehicle is here.”

“The process is being revived. It's in front of the public's view,” he continued. “So if we pass our budget and the Senate passes its budget at least we've revived the budget process through which we can look for common ground.”

Ryan shied away from revealing any specific “bargaining chips” that might be traded to reach an agreement with Democrats and President Barack Obama, saying it would be unwise to negotiate through the media.

But he indicated there are things in both budgets that “are a step in the right direction, that can get a down payment on the debt without offending either party's philosophy.

“And those are the things that are what I would call the sweet spot of an agreement,” he added.

Still, Ryan emphasized that bringing government spending under control to reduce the deficit is a priority with Republicans, who remain concerned about what they believe will be the high cost of Obamacare as it begins to take full effect next year. Ryan's budget proposal calls for defunding parts of the healthcare reform law.

“I think this law's going to collapse under its own weight. . . . This thing's going to be a budget buster. I don't think it's going to be a popular law,” he said.

Ryan added that the federal government can play a role in healthcare, “but it shouldn't play the only role” as he believes Obamacare will end up doing eventually if left unchecked.

“I think we can have a universal system for affordable health insurance without having a government takeover,” he said, noting there is “an important role” for the government to play. “But it should play the only role . . . which is where I think we're headed with Obamacare.”

Like Ryan, Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, sounded an optimistic note during his appearance on “Morning Joe,” saying he agrees there is room for a bargain to be reached. But he said, “It's going to take more than finding common ground. It's going to take compromise.”

So far, there's been little willingness on either side for compromise. But Van Hollen said the meetings Obama is holding on Capitol Hill this week with both Democrats and Republicans could open up the kind of discussions needed to reach an agreement.

Still, he stressed that like Republicans, there are some things Democrats view as a priority.

“We understand we have to make cuts, and we need to do more of that,” he said, taking account of the GOP's hard line on spending. “But we also believe the only way to reasonably bring the deficit under control is to also include some revenue, and we would generate that revenue through tax reform.”

Van Hollen said that does not include raising rates. “What we propose to do on tax reform to generate revenue is to deal with the deficit by closing loopholes,” he said.

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For his part, Ryan said Obama can play a role by engaging with both sides, especially when the House and Senate go to conference on their differing budget plans. Recalling his recent lunch with the president, he said they had the kind of “candid” conversation with each other that would be needed to produce an agreement.

But he said Republicans are still distrustful of the president, given his recent barnstorming around the country painting them as unwilling to compromise.

The question is, Ryan said, does the campaign against Republicans start again, or does the discussion on the budget continue in a real and engaging way?

“I don't know the answer to that question. Time will tell,” he said.


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