Republicans are pressing ahead with one of the most ambitious and risky long-term spending agendas in memory, yet the dozen or so potential White House hopefuls are nearly invisible on the issue.

They can’t stay on the sidelines for long, however. The contentious debate will rope them in on terms they might find hard to control.

The triumph of tea party candidates in 2010 pumped new urgency into a long-brewing Republican Party push for major cuts in domestic and benefit programs, including Medicare and Social Security.

In the absence of a Republican president or clear-cut party leader, a little-known congressman from Wisconsin seized the initiative. Backed by most House Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, wrote a far-reaching spending plan that right away framed the debate on Capitol Hill.

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