Paul Ryan Pens Op-Ed, And New Path Forward

As Congress looks for a way out of the current crisis, many Republicans are hoping for a big budget initiative to make worthwhile the pain of a government shut down and threatened debt default. Toward that end, House Budget Committee chairman and former GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan floated a plan in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. He makes the case for President Obama to negotiate with House Republicans on a deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. Ryan focused on the need to reform the tax code and make cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare, and cited a history of debt ceiling compromises between Republicans and Democrats.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Well, as we've said, today it was House Democrats' turn at the White House. Tomorrow, the president has invited House Republicans. There's little common ground between the parties on a plan to end the partial government shutdown, now in its ninth day. And in just over a week, the Treasury Department is expected to exhaust its borrowing authority, opening the door to a painful default.

One Republican who'll be at the meeting tomorrow is Congressman Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He was also the Republicans' vice-presidential candidate last year. And Ryan has written that this stalemate could be an opportunity to pay down the national debt and to jumpstart the economy - that is, if the two parties start talking.

For more on who is talking and who isn't, we're joined now by NPR's Scott Horsley. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Congressman Ryan has an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal today and in it he outlines a proposal that he says could reopen the federal government and make sure that it's able to pay its bills on time. What's in it?

HORSLEY: What's interesting is what's not in Congressman Ryan's plan. There's no mention of the president's healthcare law. And remember, that was the original reason for the government shutdown, Republicans' desire to defund Obamacare. What Ryan suggests instead is some combination of changes to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security to cut the deficit, and tax reform that he says would encourage economic growth.

Now, this is not the sweeping change to Medicare, the voucherization of that program that Congressman Ryan's proposed in the past. Instead he's calling for more modest changes, some of which the president himself has put forward, although in Obama's blueprint, those changes are always accompanied by additional tax revenue. And that's something that's missing from Congressman Ryan's plan.

SIEGEL: Well, how is Congressman Ryan's article and his proposal being received?

HORSLEY: Well, some of the most conservative Republicans are not ready to give up their attack on Obamacare yet. They see that as an easier target than more established programs like Medicare or Social Security. Republican House Speaker John Boehner appeared to throw those conservatives a bone this afternoon. He went on the House floor and leveled a new attack on Obama's insurance exchanges, which went live just as the shutdown began and which continue to suffer from plenty of technical problems.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: How can we tax people for not buying a product from a website that doesn't work? How can you give big businesses a tax break and leave hardworking families out in the cold? This is why we need to sit down and have a conversation about the big challenges that face our country.

HORSLEY: What's interesting here is that Boehner starts out talking about Obamacare and within three sentences he shifts gears to talking about the big challenges that face our country, which might be the kinds of budget challenges that Ryan's talking about. Leaders in the GOP recognize they're not likely to move the president on his signature healthcare law, but having shut down the government and rattled financial markets with the debt ceiling, they feel like they have to get something other than what Boehner calls unconditional surrender.

SIEGEL: Well, Scott, looking ahead to that meeting tomorrow at the White House, the president and House Republicans, is that a suggestion that President Obama is abandoning or at least softening his no-negotiation stance?

HORSLEY: Not necessarily, although the president will be meeting with a smaller group of Republicans than he hoped to. He had wanted to invite all 232 House Republicans, which would've more like an audience than a negotiating session. Instead, Speaker Boehner plans to bring a smaller party, fewer than 20. He says a meeting like this is only worthwhile if it's focused on finding a solution.

White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated the president's message that he's happy to talk, but only after a couple of conditions have been met.

JAY CARNEY: When it comes to our budget priorities, he has always been willing to negotiate, just not under the threat of shutdown or continued shutdown. If Congress opens the government, if Congress raises the debt ceiling, then of course he'd be willing to sit down and negotiate with lawmakers over our budget priorities.

HORSLEY: The group of Republicans headed to the White House does not include the most conservative lawmakers who pushed hardest for the shutdown. But it doesn't include those who are most eager to reopen the government either.

SIEGEL: Well, where do we go from here?

HORSLEY: We might see some sort of short-term deal to buy time for more negotiation, 'cause the urgency is starting to build now. This Friday will be the first federal payday when workers start missing paychecks - federal workers, that is. And, of course, every passing day brings us closer to that debt ceiling deadline.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

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