Paul Ryan's Votes on Fiscal Cliff and Sandy Could Haunt Him Four Years From Now

PHOTO: House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan leaves a Republican caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 1, 2013.
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These are the two Paul Ryans.

There's "Pragmatic Paul," the compromiser, who on Tuesday voted against most of his GOP House colleagues and with President Obama to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and, on paper at least, add $4 trillion to the national debt.

And there's the uncompromising budget hawk who opposed a bill that allows the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to take on $9.7 billion in new debt to help people and businesses devastated by superstorm Sandy.

It is a case study for a man who has built up his brand as an intellectual leader, on the one hand, and someone who might have his eyes on higher office in four years.

The Sandy vote was less surprising as he had already spoken out against some of the extraneous items in the legislation and Friday he said, "It would be irresponsible to raise an insolvent program's debt ceiling without making the necessary reforms."

"I agree with my colleagues that we must help those affected by Hurricane Sandy," Ryan said in a statement. "We should meet all of their needs as quickly as possible.

"Unfortunately, Washington's legislative response fails on both counts. It refuses to distinguish—or even prioritize—disaster relief over pork-barrel spending."

After his vote to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff, he clearly foreshadowed the next fight, the one over the debt ceiling, one he is expected to take an active role in.

"We'll never get our debt under control unless we tackle its main drivers: too little economic growth and too much spending," Ryan said in a statement after the bill's passage.

He added that now is the time to "return our attention to the real problem: out-of-control spending."

So, what went into his thinking over the two different answers to two different bills?

Ryan is particularly close to House Speaker John Boehner. Ryan's first job in politics when he was still a college student was working on Boehner's first congressional campaign in Ohio. Ryan put out yard signs, something the two noted when Boehner joined the GOP vice presidential nominee on the 2012 campaign trail.

However, Ryan spokesperson Kevin Seifert said it was nothing more than, "pragmatic Paul voting his conscience."

The two votes four years from now may mean nothing or could haunt Ryan if he decides to run for president in 2016, depending on who is battling for the nomination.

The fiscal cliff vote could become an issue, particularly if his opponent is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio who could highlight the fact that Ryan voted for the measure while Rubio voted against it.

The Sandy vote could also be resurrected if his rival is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who blasted members of his own party this week when Boehner decided not to vote on a $60 billion Sandy relief package after assuring lawmakers from the affected he states he would.

Paul Ryan's Two Votes May Have Consequences

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said the votes could be politically manageable for Ryan.

"Looking through the 2016 primary lens, I think he can easily explain voting yes to avert the fiscal cliff meant to protect 98 percent of taxpayers and the issue of Hurricane Sandy designed to save taxpayers money," said Bonjean, who formerly served as both the lead spokesperson in the House and the Senate. "Put (the bill) through the regular House committee process where spending requests could be scrutinized then there wouldn't be any possibility of waste, fraud, and abuse. That's probably where he's looking."

Bonjean notes that the Sandy relief bill overwhelmingly passed anyway, although 67 members, all Republicans, opposed it.

"He's consistently voted with the leadership with big issues," Bonjean said. "We have not yet gone through the debate of spending cuts or the debt ceiling where spending cuts will be the debate. . .In a 2016 primary, he can say, 'Yes I voted to protect 98 percent of taxpayers from having their taxes raised, but guess what. I also worked hard to make sure that we had more than enough spending cuts as the permission slip to raise the debt ceiling.'"

Bonjean added: "He's taking a look at the long game."

Ryan notably had a low profile during the fiscal cliff negotiations letting Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor be the faces of the fight. He was working behind the scenes, as an aide to Ryan said last month, as a "resource to the speaker, a resource to House Republicans."

Will Ryan be more vocal on the looming battle to raise the debt ceiling? It will be one to watch.

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