Better days could be ahead for compromise in Washington, House Budget chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., forecasted Sunday, three days after breaking bread with President Obama and just before his budget proposal is slated to be released facing, he conceded, an almost surefire rejection from the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Readying his plan to balance a budget stained by the blind, across-the-board knife of the sequester, Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday" that his original draft, which will be peppered with some of the same hot-button maneuvers as last year's "Ryan Budget" - including a proposed voucher system for Medicare recipients - is a presumed non-starter. But, he reasoned, "there are things that we can do that don't offend either party's philosophy, that doesn't require someone to surrender their principles, that make a good down payment on getting this debt and deficit under control."
Ryan, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, lauded Mr. Obama's so-called "charm offensive" amid the most caging gridlock in modern congressional history. The president's wine-and-dine effort with a dozen Senate Republicans last week at the Jefferson Hotel and subsequent outreach to Ryan, individually, over broiled sea bass at the White House, he said, did not go unnoticed.
"This is the first time I've ever had a conversation with the president lasting more than, say, two minutes or televised exchanges," Ryan said. "I've never really had a conversation with him, on these issues before. I am excited that we had the conversation. We had a very frank exchange."
Some wiggle room on budget negotiations, Ryan said, comes courtesy of the deal that went through during the start-of-the-year "fiscal cliff" drama. Abetted by $620 billion in tax hikes imposed on the wealthiest Americans, his newest blueprint proposes balancing the budget through $5 trillion in cuts over 10 years, as opposed to last year's plan, which set its sights on 2040.
Ryan voiced a concern held by many GOP lawmakers that Democrats will use the continuing resolution - the stopgap measure funding government through March 27 which Congress must replace or risk shutting down the government - as a vehicle to employ further tax increases. He cautioned both parties: "We don't want to refight the 'fiscal cliff.' That's current law. That's not going to change."
Heading into this next fiscal storm, Ryan said, his lunch with the president was, at the very least, a fresh approach to a years-long battle that has left Americans' trust in the government in shambles.
"I hope that this is sincere," Ryan said. "We had a very good, frank exchange. But the proof will be in the coming weeks as to whether or not it's a real, sincere outreach to find common ground."
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on CNN's "State of the Union" echoed Ryan's skepticism: "I believe anytime both parties are talking it's a good thing," he said. "This should have happened four years ago. I'm glad it's happening now. But is this about politics, or is this genuine? Only time will tell."
Appearing later in the program, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insisted the president's outreach is indeed sincere, arguing the idea behind the meetings is not, "'I'll do this with you now, and do that with them later.' I think it is, 'Let's get some things done together to make elections less important.'"
If Mr. Obama, Pelosi continued, "can defuse some of their opposition to some of these issues, bravo again for the American people that we can get a job done for them. That's far more important than what happens in an election."