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Paul Ryan photo

Running as the vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan failed to carry his home state of Wisconsin for the Romney/Ryan ticket. 

Was there a presidential election in 2012? Yes.

Who won? Barack Obama. Who was elected vice president? Joe Biden.

Who lost for president? Mitt Romney. Who lost for vice president? Paul Ryan.

Cool, just wanted to get that straight.

The latest scheme from House Republicans might have confused folks.

Fresh from their initial “defund Obamacare” debacle, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan have a new project: holding hostage any agreement to allow the debt ceiling to rise.

Traditionally, increases in the debt ceiling to pay for spending that has already been agreed to are approved with little opposition. This is how the “full faith and credit of the United States” is maintained, and that’s not the sort of thing that serious political leaders on either side of the partisan divide want to turn into a political football.

But no one accuses Boehner and Cantor of being serious about anything but political games. So, in advance of the mid-October date when an adjustment will be required, they are advancing a plan — already vetted by the lobbyists on K Street — that would exchange a one-year lifting of the debt ceiling for:

• A one-year delay of Obamacare.

• Means testing of Medicare and other so-called “entitlement reforms.”

• Sweeping tax reforms.

• Pro-corporate tort reforms, including limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.

• Approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

• Approval of offshore drilling.

• The undermining of regulations on business.

• Moves to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

• Elimination of net neutrality protections for a free and open Internet.

“The bill the Republicans propose to put on the floor this week is nothing but a wish list of unrelated and partisan policies they know won’t go anywhere. As a result they are taking their country’s credit hostage to their own small agenda,” House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., explained Sept 25.

What’s notable is that this is not a fresh wish list.

It is, essentially, the program Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan ran on in 2012. Romney’s been sidelined. But Ryan, the Republican Party’s “idea guy,” remains in the thick of things. His fingerprints are all over the Republican debt ceiling demands.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait mocks the House Republicans with the astute observation that they are advancing “Romney’s agenda on taxes, regulation of the environment, finance and other business, Medicare, tort reform. That’s their opening demand: Implement Romney’s economic plan or melt down the economy.”

The key thing to understand, however, is that the House Republicans did not have to open the Romney playbook for a refresher. They simply turned to Romney’s running mate.

That brings us to the next question: What is Paul Ryan’s mandate?

After the 2012 election, Ryan chirped: “We made this campaign about big ideas and big issues, which is the kind of campaign we wanted to run, so we ran the kind of campaign we wanted to run.”

True. Ryan’s ideas were front and center in 2012.

President Obama acknowledged as much.

“Because our budget reflects our values, it’s a reflection of our priorities,” the president declared on the day before the election in Madison. “And as long as I’m president, I’m not going to kick some poor kids off of Head Start to give me a tax cut.”

“If we’re serious about the deficit, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity,” Obama explained. “We’ve also got to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the tax rates they paid when Bill Clinton was in office.”

Given a clear choice, the voters sent a clear signal.

Ryan and Romney lost the popular vote by 5 million votes.

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Ryan and Romney lost the Electoral College by an overwhelming 332-206 margin.

Despite what Ryan might now choose to imagine, his side lost the battle of budget proposals.

Obama got the mandate — a bigger percentage of the popular vote, in fact, than John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and George Bush in 2000 and 2004.

To say otherwise is to deny the results of the 2012 election.

Paul Ryan can try if he wants.

But he should remember what happened when he peddled a fantasy about the closing of that Janesville General Motors plant. After Ryan tried to blame Obama for a closure that was put in play during the Bush presidency, and that resulted from trade and economic policies that Ryan supported, his neighbors in Janesville pushed back.

Ryan lost Janesville, as a vice presidential candidate and a candidate for re-election to his congressional seat.

Ryan lost surrounding Rock County, as a vice presidential and a congressional candidate.

Ryan and Romney lost Wisconsin and Ryan was re-elected to the House by the narrowest margin of any winner in a Wisconsin congressional race.

But it wasn’t just Wisconsin, and it wasn’t just the top of the ticket.

Democrats were expected to lose seats in the U.S. Senate. Instead, they added two seats, maintaining control of the Senate, and won the popular vote for contested seats nationally by more than 10 million votes.

Democrats also won the popular vote for U.S. House seats by 1.7 million votes, but Republicans won more seats than the Democrats and maintained control of the House. In other words, gerrymandering and electoral processes that do not always produce a clear reflection of popular sentiment kept Ryan, Cantor and Boehner in positions of leadership.

Now they seek to use those positions to make debt ceiling threats, with the purpose of implementing an agenda that was rejected by the American people.

Which brings us to the final question: What was the point of the 2012 election if the will of the people can be thwarted by the politicians whose “big ideas” failed at the polls?

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com @NicholsUprising