In his first high-profile vote since leaving the campaign trail as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's running mate and rejoining his colleagues in the House Republican caucus, Ryan said the deal made to prevent taxes from rising on millions of Americans was clearly better than the alternative.
"Will the American people be better off if this law passes relative to the alternative? In the final analysis, the answer is undoubtedly yes," he said in a statement last week.
Ryan will likely be a focus in every controversial vote in the coming years. Should he decide to seek the Republican nomination in 2016, many of the votes he takes now could prove crucial, The New York Times said Monday.
Already, he is at odds with a potential primary opponent, conservative Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who voted against the fiscal cliff deal because he opposed raising taxes on wealthy Americans.
The other so-called "young guns" in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California -- with whom Ryan has written a book and voted in virtual lockstep on fiscal issues over the years -- also broke with Ryan and Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to oppose the deal.
Of course, pundits note the 2016 primaries are a long way away. But the import of votes that can seem safe at the time -- such as Hillary Rodham Clinton's support of the Iraq war in 2003, which opened the door for Barack Obama in their 2008 primary campaign battle -- can change over time.
"I just don't think 2016 is going to be litigated through the lens of this one vote," said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Romney, "because in a month or two, we're going to be onto a whole new deadline fight, and there will be plenty of votes and plenty of areas where you can still build your political profile and your electoral profile where you're a viable candidate in 2016 -- the full body of work so to speak."