By KEN THOMAS and LAURIE KELLMAN
WASHINGTON — Rep. Paul Ryan likened his 2-year budget agreement with Democrats to taking a few steps in the right direction.
But the bipartisan deal also carries potential value for Republicans and Ryan himself at a time when the party lacks a clear leader ahead of the 2014 election. If the agreement eventually comes to represent the badly needed bridge between Republican factions, Ryan was its builder.
In winning House passage of the bill last week, Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate pushed fellow conservatives to recognize the realities of divided government and take a more measured approach after a party-crippling government shutdown in October.
The compromise Ryan, R-Wis., negotiated with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., represents a new, pronounced effort by Republicans to avoid more self-inflicted wounds and begin assembling a governing agenda as an alternative to Democrats.
“To really do what we think needs to be done, we are going to have to win some elections and in the meantime let’s try and make this divided government work,” Ryan said. “I think our constituents are expecting a little more from us. They’re expecting us to not keep shutting the government down, they’re expecting us to pay the bills.”
Ryan’s stature among Republicans as a policy leader was established by writing blueprints on overhauling entitlement programs and curbing federal spending, well before he joined Romney’s presidential ticket.
The 43-year-old aficionado of economist Ayn Rand could jump into the 2016 White House race after next year’s elections or eventually try to succeed House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
But there also could be negative political consequences for Ryan in the budget mini-bargain.