What Is Paul Ryan's Role During the Fiscal Cliff Negotiations?

PHOTO: Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and former vice presidential nominee, and Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator who was a frequent presence on the campaign trail with Mitt Romney this year, unveiled post-election messages, perhaps with an eye towar
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After 88 days in the spotlight as Mitt Romney's VP pick, Paul Ryan has stepped into the shadows (specifically, hometown Janesville, Wisc.) for the five-day House break – but that doesn't mean he's not taking phone calls and answering emails.

The topic of course is the fiscal cliff. He's the House budget chairman and the man many thought may come in as the new leader in the House, perhaps even his beleaguered Republican Party. During the campaign, he pushed cutting spending and stressed entitlement reform, despite the political risks.

The day after the election, House Speaker John Boehner, the man now at the center of the negotiations with President Obama, called Ryan, according to a Boehner aide, because the speaker wanted "to make sure he was in the fold from Day One," adding he's been a "close part of the thought process."

And an aide to Ryan, who asked that his name not be used, says the role of the Wisconsin congressman is as a "resource to the speaker, a resource to House Republicans."

"He has responsibilities as the House budget chairman, he has responsibilities to the first district of Wisconsin. He needed to be where the fight is," added the aide. Nevertheless he wants to be "deferential" to those leading the conversation -- namely Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Since the lame duck session began, Ryan has attended the daily leadership meetings that Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy, and chairman of the House Republican Conference Cathy McMorris-Rodgers attend. Ryan -- along with Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, who leads the Ways and Means Committee, and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee -- is new to these daily meetings.

"It is a daily group conversation about what our positions should be and where they think we should be headed," said the Boehner aide, who also asked that his name not be used, said.

And it's as this type of resource to Boehner and other House Republicans that Ryan is comfortable being in the background.

READ: Boehner: 'No Progress' on 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks

It reveals an obvious struggle: one in which Ryan doesn't want to overstep his role, but clearly wants to keep his options open for 2016 whether or not the country ends up going off the cliff at the end of the year or averting disaster.

Ryan told Time magazine this week on the 2016 front that he's "decided not to decide."

"You can't hold on forever doing that, but I've decided to focus on my family and my job," Ryan told the magazine, although he had already started being eyed as a 2016 contender while he was a vice presidential candidate. He has openly talked about how he seriously considered a run in 2012, but finally decided against it, citing his three young children as one reason.

Of course, being in the background during these negotiations is also a role he's simply returning to. Much like the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, the faces of the Republican Party were Boehner and Cantor, but Ryan was always contributing in the background.

"What you have are public negotiators in the leadership and beyond those principals there is a supporting cast of characters," another Ryan aide said. "Members ask [Ryan] his opinion: 'What do you think of this deal? Are we going the right route with not raising [tax] rates?'"

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