Republican budget leader Paul Ryan faces key test in fiscal talks

Maybe, in an alternate universe, Jack Doll threw the ball away on 1st-and-goal. Maybe the junior held onto it and went down near the line of scrimmage. Maybe, just maybe, he evaded the pass rush, found an open man and ended the longest losing streak in college football.

Any of those scenarios would make more sense than what really happened Saturday at Zimman Field.

Down 13-10 with under a minute remaining, Tufts was on Bowdoin's 2-yard line. Doll floated a pass toward the goal line, intended for classmate Greg Lanzillo. The pass was intercepted. Bowdoin senior Tim Wickstrom caught the ball and put a dagger through the Jumbos' hearts.

Over the last 26 games, Tufts football has experienced its share of anguish, including 10 losses by eight points or fewer. And yet, as they marched down the field in the final minutes on Saturday, the Jumbos had 1,200 fans convinced. After three years of frustration, they were finally going to exorcise their demons.

Then Wickstrom came down with the ball and the Polar Bears took a knee to run out the clock: Bowdoin 13, Tufts 10. That's the reality the Jumbos must live with.

What should have happened is we should have won the game," head coach Jay Civetti said Sunday. "We should have made the play."

On the previous possession, Tufts' defense had bent but did not break. Civetti used all three of his timeouts, leaving 2:37 to go when the Jumbos took over on downs at their own 29. From there, they marched to the goal line.

"Jack [Doll] did his job," Civetti said. "Jack's supposed to complete the passes and get us into a position to score. He did his job in terms of getting us there. ... We just didn't finish."

The game was a defensive battle from the start. Tufts pulled ahead, 3-0, in the second quarter when freshman Willie Holmquist converted his first career field goal, a 30-yarder. But Bowdoin scored the next 13 points.

First, sophomore Andrew Murowchick hit a 30-yard field goal. Then, the Polar Bears drove 73 yards and scored a touchdown with 13 seconds left in the opening half. Senior Zach Donnarumma, who rushed 29 times for 136 yards, capped it with a 1-yard run. Later, in the third quarter, Murowchick hit from 29 yards to make the score 13-3.

The Polar Bears got away with some sloppy play, including seven penalties for 53 yards, five fumbles - three on bad snaps and one on a dropped punt - and an interception. But for much of the game, the Jumbos failed to take advantage.

"Our identity needs to be more consistently there," Civetti said. "That's probably the best way I could say it. We can't just wake up when the game's on the line."

After three straight drives of seven yards or fewer to close out the third quarter, Tufts' offense finally began to click early in the fourth. Starting at his team's own 31, Doll engineered a 69-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 30-yard strike under pressure to freshman Mike Rando at Bowdoin's 6-yard line.

On 4th-and-goal inside the 1, Doll handed off to freshman Chance Brady, who slipped through the line for his first collegiate touchdown. Holmquist's extra point made it 13-10 with 11:35 left.

Bowdoin and Tufts traded fruitless possessions before the Polar Bears got the ball at their own 20 with eight minutes to play. That's when Donnarumma, sophomore running back Trey Brown and junior quarterback Mac Caputi went to work. They picked up four first downs, eating up five minutes in the process.

At the 2:53 mark, the Jumbos took down Brown in the backfield at the Tufts 30, at which point Civetti called his first timeout. Then, junior James Brao sacked Caputi for a loss of five, and Civetti stopped the clock again. On 3rd-and-16, Donnarumma picked up six yards

The influential House of Representatives Budget Committee chairman has a lot at stake, including his clout among Republican members of Congress and any aspirations he may have for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

Ryan will be his party’s leader on the budget negotiating panel that sprang
from this month’s deal to end a federal government shutdown and avert a potential default. It will convene on Wednesday for opening statements from its 29 members and faces a December 13 deadline to reach a deal that can be considered by the full House and Senate.

In the past few years, Ryan hasn’t been much for negotiating, and he hasn’t had to. Since he took over as budget committee chairman in 2011, there haven’t been formal budget negotiations, as Congress has simply lurched between stopgap spending extensions.

Ryan’s budgets passed in the House have served mainly as manifestos for his conservative small-government budget vision: deep cuts to social programs, dramatically lower tax rates and radical reforms to expensive federal benefits programs.

“Congressman Ryan has been instrumental in putting the large-scale issues of fiscal reform on the national agenda. What he’s never done is lead an effort where you have to compromise to get something done,” said Maya MacGuineas, who heads the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group pushing for deficit reduction.

Squaring off against Ryan will be the negotiating panel’s Democratic leader, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray. The talks will start on well-trod ground: Republican demands for cuts to federal benefits programs and Democratic demands for increased tax revenue.

Ryan avoided participation in another panel created to resolve an impasse – the 2011 “supercommittee” – predicting that it had more than a 50 percent chance of failure. It did fail in its quest to find $1.2 trillion in budget savings over a decade, triggering the automatic “sequester” spending cuts.

For several months this year, the 43-year-old Wisconsin Republican resisted calls to negotiate over Republican and Democratic budget plans, saying the differences were too vast for a public conference committee of the House and Senate.

Now thrust into the position of having to haggle, he is trying to shrink expectations for anything larger than a modest easing of the sequester cuts. An elusive “grand bargain” is simply too ambitious, he told Reuters.


But even diminished hopes are riding on Ryan’s ability to sell a deal to a fractious House Republican caucus, where he commands respect, even among Tea Party conservatives.

Republicans, including Ryan, have refused to consider additional revenue increases to ease the sequester, and working around that line in the sand will be the talks’ the biggest challenge.

Democrats have insisted that revenue gains from eliminating tax deductions and loopholes make up at least half of any alternative savings. They say they are willing to cough up some cuts to federal benefits programs, but not unless Republicans consider revenues.

The two sides would need to find about $91 billion to eliminate the sequester cuts for fiscal 2014 and go back to prior spending limits.

Democrats want about $45 billion of that to come from closing tax loopholes, a Democratic Senate aide said, adding that Ryan will be forced to make some hard choices.

“There will be no gimmick that we can use that’s going to let him say there’s no tax increase,” the aide said.

Unless he can persuade Democrats to give up some cuts without revenue gains, Ryan’s fallback position is to keep the sequester cuts in place. This would please House conservatives, but would not sit well with many other Republicans who support strong spending on the military and national security programs.

The sequester will hit the Department of Defense harder in 2014, with estimates of about $20 billion in additional cuts compared with 2013. Analysts and some lawmakers see that as a significant motivator for Republicans to make a deal.