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Paul Ryan, Aiming for Ways & Means Instead of VP?

Paul Ryan, Aiming for Ways & Means Instead of VP?

By Erin McPike - June 27, 2012


JANESVILLE, Wis. -- In a recent Washington Post story on Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and his vice presidential aspirations, a passage about another Capitol Hill lawmaker stood out:

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell [have] also emerged as fixtures in the vice presidential discussion, with Ryan especially portrayed as a kindred spirit of [Mitt] Romney’s, someone able to finish the top man’s sentences and make him laugh. Romney and Ryan had met privately last autumn to talk about economic policy and deficits, said someone close to the candidate.

Maneuvering by Romney’s presidential campaign suggest that Portman and Tim Pawlenty are at the top of the list to be this year’s Republican running mate. Ryan, despite his good chemistry with the presumptive nominee, has not gotten the same kind of buzz -- even though the campaign has deployed him just as much and likely sees him in a similar vein to how it views the other two.

Elected to the House in 1998 as a 28-year-old and now serving his seventh term, Ryan was the first surrogate dispatched to North Carolina to host a solo event on behalf of the presidential operation. He’s also joined Romney on the stump several times since endorsing him ahead of the Wisconsin primary in April, and he’s one of the high-profile fundraising figures for the campaign. Although aides don’t acknowledge that he’s being vetted for vice president, Capitol Hill has been swirling with speculation that he is.

And yet, even though Ryan has become a rock star to the right, his experience is limited to work in Congress, which suggests to some that he might seem like a one-trick pony and thus unfit to fill the role of president. When it comes to Romney’s chief qualification that the VP be ready for the top job -- and to his other key assertion about the importance of “running something” -- the Wisconsin lawmaker is suspect. He jointly runs his household here and he’s the face of the House Budget Committee, but he certainly can’t claim much in the way of private sector experience after getting elected to the House at so young an age (after working there as a staffer).

Ryan is an affable 42-year-old who jokes about poring over federal budgets since age 22, and that interest has propelled him to superstardom within his party and has made President Obama take note of him. Senior aides on the House Republican leadership team worship Ryan, but when they discuss his prospects, they talk of how badly he wants to chair the all-powerful House Ways and Means Committee (where four Republicans currently outrank him), rather than the executive branch.

Ryan, of course, already chairs one key committee and from that perch has authored substantial budgets that have become lightning rods for the left. Indeed, the “Ryan budget” has become a household term. But by chairing Ways and Means, he would be charged with overseeing legislation to rewrite the tax code and could lead the way on all entitlement reform.

But what Ryan doesn’t appear to possess is a balance of policy interests and experiences. According to his congressional office, he took 11 congressional delegation trips abroad, visiting more than two dozen countries, from 1999 through 2011. But he is not known for foreign policy prowess.

Indeed, he has dismissed interest in higher office for the time being, and he’s been clear about why: He has three young children, and he doesn’t want to spend so much of his time traveling rather than at home with them. What’s more, asked in 2009 why he wasn’t considering a return home to run for governor, he shrugged and said simply: "I just don't want to walk away from this federal fight."

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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