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Paul Ryan reveling in policy, issues — and not the '16 campaign

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February 23, 2015 | comments

By Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Relaxed. Politically powerful. And not running for president.

That's Paul Ryan in his role as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, where he'll be the gatekeeper of President Barack Obama's domestic agenda.

The Republican congressman from Janesville was asked in a joking manner Monday, "Do you look at the (2016) presidential race and say, 'Man, I regret getting out of that race?'"

"No I don't," Ryan told editors and reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I'm having fun because I'm writing policy. I'm having fun because I'm working on issues."

It also helps that he's home on weekends to be with his family.

And by not joining the presidential field, Ryan is avoiding those questions that have recently tripped up Gov. Scott Walker and which likely lie ahead for the other 2016 contenders.

Walker's problems started with his refusal to give his view on evolution during a trip to London. For the record: Ryan said he believes in evolution "and that's perfectly consistent with my belief in God."

Ryan's suggestion on handling such questions: "Just be yourself, be comfortable."

"My advice would be to answer it your own way in your own time under your own choosing, not some reporter's 30-second off-the-cuff question," said Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate.

With keen interest in the personal views of Walker and others running for president, Ryan indicated a candidate might want to "give a speech, lay out who you are."

Tight pack of candidates

Ryan said there isn't a front-runner in the 2016 GOP field but that Walker has an excellent chance. He added that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush "has a lot of advantages, but no one is going to dominate this thing."

"My guess is it's going to be a pretty tight pack near the top and it's going to go on for a while," he said.

Ryan said he is eager to tackle issues on taxes and trade, where he is seeking "common ground" with the Obama administration.

Ryan recently led a Ways and Means Committee delegation on a three-nation trip to Asia. Ryan is hopeful for a successful conclusion to talks over a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

"If we can get that kind of a trade agreement, that means we have more customers, more opportunities to make things here, grow things here and sell them overseas," he said. "That's the kind of thing we should do to open up job creation."

Obamacare plan

More immediately, Ryan is hopeful a resolution can be found in the funding fight over the Department of Homeland Security to prevent a temporary shutdown of the sprawling agency. A bill is tied up in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans are attempting to link funding for the agency to a showdown with Obama over immigration.

"Do I want to see Homeland Security shut down? No I don't," Ryan said. "Will it? No it won't. The president can deem these functions essential anyway."

On Obamacare, Ryan said he and other Republicans are fashioning a contingency plan if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down part of the Affordable Care Act. This spring, the court is expected to rule in the King vs. Burwell case, a decision that could affect health insurance subsidies for around 6 million people in 36 states.

The contingency plan would be "a bridge out of Obamacare," Ryan said.

If Obamacare is upheld, Ryan said he would continue working on a full replacement of the law.

On a state matter, Ryan was asked his views on right to work, as Republicans plan to fast-track a bill to Walker that would prohibit labor contracts in the private sector that require workers to pay union fees.

"I've got enough issues to worry about on the federal level," Ryan said. "I'm not going to stick my nose in the state's business."