The Wisconsin Republican's remarks hint that while government shutdowns may be averted for the next two years -- pending Senate passage of the two-year agreement he struck with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) -- the GOP isn't ready to lift the country's borrowing limit without a fight. He indicated that Republicans will come up with their ransom demand when they meet after the holiday recess.
"We're going to meet in our retreats after the holidays and discuss exactly what it is we're going to try and get for this," he said.
The statutory debt limit deadline is Feb. 7, after which Treasury can take extraordinary measures to continue borrowing in order to pay the country's bills for an unspecified period of time -- but at least for several weeks past the deadline.
President Barack Obama has drawn a red line against any negotiations on the debt limit since the 2011 standoff that nearly led to a breach of the deadline. Since then, Republicans have caved twice and raised the limit without any substantive concessions, most recently in October, after initially demanding ransom for averting an economically catastrophic default both times.
As a result, the threat of default has little credibility with the White House now that Republicans have twice proven they aren't ultimately willing to let it happen. Even if GOP leaders recognize that another hostage standoff is probably futile, if not self-defeating, it won't be easy to talk their members out of waging a battle with the president.
"One of the problems or concerns I have with the debt limit is we don't know when it's going to hit," Ryan said. "Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary, has ultimately discretion on when this could occur. So the timing of this is very much in doubt."