One thing he's lacking: any apparent plans to do so.
That's not to say that the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee isn't considering a possible White House bid in 2016. But while top-tier candidates are making repeat visits to early-primary states, Ryan's lack of engagement is a telling sign that he'd rather lead a key congressional committee instead.
In January, Ryan is set to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congress' chief tax-writing panel. It is the fulfillment of a career ambition and a key position for him to tighten an already sure grip on Republican fiscal policy, allowing him to push his party -- and possibly the country -- in a more conservative, pro-market direction.
“The Ways and Means Committee will give him the platform to pursue the thing that burns brightest in his heart, and that’s tax reform policy,” said Stephen King, a veteran Wisconsin political operative and Ryan’s campaign chairman since he first ran for Congress in 1998. “It has been his dream job. He’s spent days and months and years thinking about the prospect of it, and as such, is uber excited.”
Ways and Means has jurisdiction over most major issues that come before Congress. The legislation the committee oversees has animated Ryan since his early days as a congressional legislative aide and think tank analyst. As chairman, he would have the authority to shape House Republicans' approach to economic growth, trade policy, overhauling Obamacare, reforming the tax code, revamping entitlement programs and to spearhead his latest project, reconfiguring the federal government's strategy for reducing poverty.
The outgoing chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan is expected to be elected Ways and Means chairman by his peers when House Republicans meet after the November elections to select their leaders for the 114th Congress.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, he declined to specifically address his plans for leading the panel -- or how much his tax reform plan might incorporate the ideas included in the proposal written by outgoing Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. But Ryan did offer clues, which he couched as his opinion of what issues should top Congress' list of priorities. Chief among them: health care, tax reform and stimulating economic growth.
“We still have to tackle this entitlement crisis. That's not going away,” he said, referring to Medicare and Social Security. “We're going to consign the next generation to a lower living standard, combined with a debt crisis and a failing safety net. So, we have to take on these entitlements.”
Ryan, 44, rose to prominence through his leadership on fiscal issues, offering aggressive proposals to cut government spending and overhaul entitlement programs. But since running for vice president, he has expanded his portfolio of issues, and through a series of speeches continues to stoke speculation that he might run for president in 2016.
In the past few months, the congressman has spoken on his vision for U.S. foreign policy, his interpretation of the Constitution and what it means for conservatism — and, on Thursday, his plan for reducing poverty. In the fall, Ryan expects to unveil a plan he is developing with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another possible 2016 contender, to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Ryan said he would decide on a White House bid next year.
He doesn’t sound like a man in a hurry. “That’s in 2015, so I’m just pushing it off, focusing on the moment, and [my wife] and I will have the kind of conversations and discussions you need to have at the appropriate time,” Ryan said.
Still, where two years ago Ryan was a firmly contented House member urged to reconsider his decision not run for president by a small fan club of Washington-based conservative intellectuals, this time around he is a bona fide national figure with political viability. The Republican donor class, including names like financier Paul Singer and the flush network of contributors established by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, remains impressed with Ryan. Some are encouraging him to run in 2016.
Republicans who have followed Ryan’s career say that he appears to be intrigued by what the White House has to offer as a means to steer national policy and affect the direction of the country in a way that he wasn’t before his vice presidential bid. And, Ryan said the experience of running for vice president was a positive one for him as well as his wife, Janna, and their three young children: Liza, 12, Charlie, 11, and Sam, 9.
A key question has to be whether Ryan is ready to gamble away at least six years atop the Ways and Means Committee for a chance at winning the presidency. If Ryan has an immediate burning for higher office, he hasn’t altered his style to reflect it. The congressman still maintains a tight staff geared toward serving the constituents of his southeastern Wisconsin district and tends to keep his own counsel.
Unlike other often-mentioned presidential aspirants, Ryan has not expanded his congressional staff or political operation.
Among his few key advisors are Joyce Meyer, who runs his Washington operation, and chief of staff Andy Speth, who is based in the district. Meyer and Ryan met each other when both worked as aides for then-Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. Speth and Ryan met in the sixth grade, at a basketball camp. They later grew close while attending Craig High School in Janesville, Wis., where both grew up and still live.
Meyer and Speth have been with Ryan since 1999.
“His brain trust is not around a conference room, it’s on a sofa,” said a Republican operative who has followed Ryan’s career.