WASHINGTON (AP) — Unbothered by suggestions it could preclude a presidential campaign, Rep. Paul Ryan is on track to be tapped to lead Congress' main tax-writing committee next week, a job allies of the Wisconsin Republican believe could set the stage for a White House bid.
His party's nominee for vice president in 2012, Ryan insists he will not make a decision about running for president until next year. For the moment, he seems eager to wield a new gavel as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — a role he could win as soon as next week.
"We have a chance of putting bills on the president's desk," Ryan said of his bid for the top seat on the influential committee.
Ryan is still taking care not to rule out a presidential run, and his advisers argue he has the network of political and donor contacts — years in the making as his party's leading voice on the federal budget and boosted by his run on the Romney ticket two years ago — to join the field later than most.
Under current House rules, and should the GOP maintain control of the chamber, Ryan could serve as Ways and Means chairman for six years, for the balance of President Barack Obama's time in office and the next president's first term.
But nothing in the House's rules bars chairman from running for higher office and, while officially neutral, House Speaker John Boehner is a Ryan booster, both for the Ways and Means post and a potential presidential bid.
Ryan faces a challenge for the chairman's job from Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican. Ryan is the favorite of both establishment-minded leaders in the party who see him as a fundraising force, as well as among newer members who see him as a buddy.
While the powerful House panel's agenda is expected to be busy, it is unlikely on its own to keep Ryan from a national campaign. Should Ryan decide to run, Boehner is expected to do everything he can to help one of his key lieutenants balance his duties.
As chairman of Ways and Means, Ryan would be in position to shape trade deals and oversee Social Security and health care programs in the new, GOP-led Congress. The committee would also direct any overhaul of the tax code, an issue on which both Obama and Republican leaders have speculated they could work on together.
If Ryan can usher a simplified tax code into law in 2015, that effort could be part of his pitch to voters in 2016 — or in a later run.
At 44, Ryan has many potential campaigns ahead of him, his advisers and allies argue. If Democrats successfully nominate, elect and then re-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ryan could run in 2024 at the relatively young age of 54. An added draw for his family is the fact his pre-teen children today would be young adults by then.
Unlike his potential rivals, Ryan is not openly fanning speculation about a national campaign. If anything, he's trying to snuff it out.
For instance, while his would-be rivals were campaigning at the Iowa State Fair last summer, Ryan and his family were camping in Colorado. He checked in with his office just once a day.
Ryan and his team are also mindful the crowded field of likely GOP hopefuls could be upended easily. His advisers point to the great fanfare — and then even greater flame-out — that Texas Gov. Rick Perry enjoyed when he joined the field of GOP candidates in August of 2007, months after others had been participating in debates and campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Still, since the end of the 2012 race, Ryan has campaigned in 29 states, his aides said. He has appeared at 58 events for House colleagues or candidates, as well as joined winning Senate candidates in Iowa, West Virginia and Kansas.
Ryan's team insists they are part of his moves to help fellow Republicans and build the party. None, his aides say, is a precursor to a presidential run.
"I'm not one of those guys who has my life mapped out two, four, six, eight years," Ryan said recently at a campaign event in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. "I take one thing at a time."
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