Paul Ryan's step-by-step future starts with trade

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Posted: Jun 11, 2015 3:02 PM
Paul Ryan's step-by-step future starts with trade

WASHINGTON (AP) — First, give presidents the power to strike trade deals. Then, overturn President Barack Obama's health care law, overhaul the tax code and rework the nation's welfare system. And someday? Perhaps a run for president.

You might call it the New Ryan Plan, a map not just to change the nation's fiscal policy, but to Paul Ryan's future. It steers the nine-term Republican congressman and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee into the thicket of policy fights. The path likely takes him to a familiar decision point — whether to run for president. The 45-year-old Ryan said he might take that step, someday.

"I wouldn't rule out running for president ever," he said in an interview this week with The Associated Press, looking not much older than he did in 2012 as Mitt Romney's running mate. "Just not now."

That's because Ryan is on Step One of his plan: Shepherding the "fast track" trade bill that would give Obama the power to swiftly push the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico and several others. The drive to pass the legislation puts Ryan in an oddball alliance: Working with the president who defeated Romney and Ryan three years ago — and against a bloc of conservatives for whom giving the Democratic president more power is anathema.

Ryan, the father of three young children, nixed the round-the-clock world of presidential campaigning this election cycle. As it is, he spends four days a week in Washington, sleeping in his office, and the other three at home in Janesville, Wisconsin, meeting with constituents and shuttling his kids to summer camp.

Also, there's this: The chairmanship of Congress' oldest committee is Ryan's happy place on Capitol Hill. He's called it his "dream job" — a phrase seldom, if ever, used to describe the vice presidency.

"He's right in his element," said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a conservative opposed to the trade legislation.

"Probably being part of the national conversation has made him battle-tested for some of the issues that he will face in the upcoming weeks," said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a former House member.

If Republicans remain in control of the House over the next six years, Ryan will remain chairman.

Beyond the trade bill, Ryan's ideas for replacing Obama's signature health care law, rewriting the tax code and overhauling the welfare system will have to wait for a new president, he said.

The trade bill, which the House is expected to vote on Friday, is the only one of Ryan's four policy goals that stands a chance of becoming law during the Obama presidency, Ryan said. Republicans were scrambling for votes on Thursday while the administration was lobbying Democrats to back their president.

Ryan was making his pitch to his GOP colleagues.

Immigration hardliner Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said Wednesday he moved from leaning "no" to a solid "yes" after Ryan assured him that trade negotiations would include no changes to immigration policy.

"It's actually a significant benefit because it will prohibit the negotiation of immigration provisions of any kind in any trade agreement that's negotiated under the TPA," said King.

If the House backs the measure, Ryan will have passed a key test of leadership, set a standard for his chairmanship and added a solid credential to a resume that already includes House Budget chairman and a GOP spending blueprint. If it fails, he may have to start over.

"He takes on long-shot fights like Trade Promotion Authority not to advance his political prospects, but to advance his convictions about what is right for the country," Romney said in a statement to the AP.

Added the former presidential candidate: "Paul is an increasingly rare leader in Washington who is without guile, without ego, and without a consuming interest in his political future."

It's clear that the two 2012 running mates remain intensely fond of each other despite a season of second-guessing and the short-lived prospect this year of another Romney presidential run.

"I love Mitt," Ryan said without being asked.

And Republicans, even those not enamored of Ryan's willingness to negotiate with Democrats, acknowledge that he is a viable leader of a party struggling to appeal to minorities, the middle class and women. Particularly chafing to these Republicans was Ryan's work with Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray in 2013 to strike a budget deal. The two became fast friends and playful rivals, with Ryan trash-talking Murray's Seattle Seahawks and Murray insulting Ryan's beloved Green Bay Packers.

"If he can pull (the trade bill) over the finish line, I think that's a feather in his cap," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., who served with Ryan in the House. "It's just going to be one more that maybe strengthens his leadership for another national run — which I'd like to see."

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Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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Follow Laurie Kellman on Twitter @APLaurieKellman.