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Paul Ryan's record: huge role in debt debate but few legislative wins

Rep. Paul Ryan's grasp of federal spending has given him an outsized role in defining the GOP position on deficits and debt, but he has a lower profile in driving the bipartisan compromises needed to pass laws.

By Staff writer / August 14, 2012

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Monday, accompanied by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (l.).

Conrad Schmidt/AP

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Paul Ryan is a creature of Congress. Elected to the House in 1998 at the age of 28, the Wisconsin Republican had even spent much of the prior six years on or around Capitol Hill working as a staffer and at a conservative think tank.

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Over that span, the man Mitt Romney tapped as his vice presidential running mate came to define his party's position on debt and deficits, after a rapid rise to lead the Budget Committee by virtue of his grasp on federal spending.

In a toxic political environment, he has built personal friendships and worked on policy proposals with Democrats, but he has yet to put his shoulders behind any bipartisan political initiative to rein in the national debt. Although Democrats dub his budgets extremist, Representative Ryan's voting record ranks in the center of his caucus.

Among Republicans, Ryan is seen as a leader and tutor on budget issues, a convivial mentor with deep knowledge of federal spending. And it is without question that he has done more to shape how Republican lawmakers talk about the budget than any other member of Congress. 

“Nobody understands the federal budget better than Paul, or has worked harder to develop and offer real solutions to the fiscal challenges facing America,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin in a statement.

Ryan’s budgets, passed by the House in both 2011 and 2012, came to define the House GOP position on spending, entitlement reform, and deficit reduction.  

In addition, they've given Republicans license to rip the Democratic-controlled Senate for failing to pass a budget in three years. That, in turn, has allowed Republicans to counter Democratic attacks of an obstructionist, tea-party-controlled Congress with the simple rejoinder: What’s your solution?

That’s a theme picked up by the Romney-Ryan presidential campaign.

“I believe my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Governor Romney’s executive and private-sector success outside Washington,” Ryan said in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday. “I have worked closely with Republicans as well as Democrats to advance an agenda of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and job creation.”

In fact, the actual record of accomplishment is less robust than the debate it has inspired. 

In a few instances, Ryan has crossed the aisle to work with Democrats. Among his bipartisan moves is an as-yet-unsuccessful effort with the Budget Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, to give the president a line-item veto.

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