the national interest

Guess Who Stuck a Knife in the Budget Deal?

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/GettyImages

When I wrote my Paul Ryan profile last spring, I argued that nobody, with the possible exception of Grover Norquist, had done more to destroy bipartisan deficit reduction agreements than Paul Ryan. Ryan was a member of the Bowles-Simpson commission and voted against it. The following summer, a large bipartisan coalition of Senators was prepared to unveil a deficit plan when Ryan, as Republican blogger Jennifer Rubin reported at the time, “dropped what one Republican Senate adviser called a ‘bomb’ on the Gang of Six.”

There was a third moment when Democrats and Republicans might have joined together to agree on a long-term fiscal readjustment. President Obama and John Boehner had struck a deal, one that was far more favorable to Republicans than either Bowles-Simpson or the Senate plan — a horrible deal, I would say. Guess who stuck in the knife?

The New York Times reports today:

Mr. Ryan’s enormous influence was apparent last summer when Representative Eric Cantor, the second most powerful House Republican, told Mr. Obama during negotiations over an attempted bipartisan “grand bargain” that Mr. Ryan disliked its policy and was concerned that a deal would pave the way for Mr. Obama’s easy re-election, according to a Democrat and a Republican who were briefed on the conversation.

A spokesman for Boehner says he has “no recollection” of this now. Huh.

But it’s pretty self-evident anyway, isn’t it? Everybody agrees that Ryan is the ultimate authority in his party. If Ryan wanted to cut a deal, Ryan could have cut a deal. The non-extremist defense of Ryan is that his extremist plan is a “negotiating” position designed to lead to a bipartisan fiscal adjustment with tax and entitlement reform. But literally nothing in his actual record (as opposed to his rhetoric) supports this interpretation. What it does support is the straightforward interpretation that Ryan is pursuing a maximalist agenda of building uniformity for his radical approach within the GOP caucus and betting on a 2012 victory that would allow his party to quickly enact his plan without concessions.

Guess Who Stuck a Knife in the Budget Deal?