WASHINGTON • Mr Paul Ryan, 45, who was elected in a celebratory Capitol Hill pageant as the 54th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is the youngest to grip the gavel since the late 1860s.
He now confronts a fundamental question: Will his new post provide a platform to pursue his bold visions for a renewed America, or will those big ideas weigh him down in an era defined by confrontation and small-bore compromises?
Mr Ryan, who was elected on Thursday, ascended rapidly in American politics as a man with big plans: to overhaul the tax code, slash federal spending and rewrite the social contracts for Medicare and Social Security.
We have nothing to fear from honest differences, honestly stated... If you have ideas, let's hear them. I believe a greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us.
MR PAUL RYAN, 54th speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Recent experience, including the success of Democrats in blocking all of Mr Ryan's sweeping budget proposals, suggests that he will continue to harbour expansive aspirations but will have little choice but to set more modest goals.
He not only faces the realities of divided government, at least for the next 14 months, but also must try to repair the deep fractures among House Republicans - a point that he acknowledged in his opening remarks: "The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them."
During Thursday's ceremonies, as Mr Ryan made his way to the rostrum and an emotional hug with his weepy predecessor John Boehner, there was grim recognition that his ascent stemmed from the chaos in the ranks of his party's majority.
A cluster of hardline rank-and-file Republican conservatives who forced the departure of Mr Boehner have been demanding that Mr Ryan carry out an array of changes in House rules to empower individual lawmakers.
Several of the conservatives said they were prepared to give Mr Ryan the benefit of the doubt, at least for now. Representative Raul Labrador, one of the leaders of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, said: "We're cautiously optimistic that he's going to change the way we're doing things here, and we're going to give him a chance."
While Mr Boehner, 65, came into the job as a seasoned leader who tried unsuccessfully to appease Tea Party members, Mr Ryan, who was the Republican Party's vice-presidential nominee in 2012, represents a new generation.
His youth was underscored by his three children - 13, 12 and 10 - tucked into their seats next to their mother Janna.
His experience on the national stage was recalled by the two guests behind his family: former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his wife Ann.
Democrats were poised to typecast Mr Ryan as a big-thinking public servant with fine talking points who will ultimately fall back on the trickle-down economics of the Reagan era that they say will help neither the poor nor the middle class.
"A Budget is supposed to be a statement of values about our country," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said. "So it will be interesting to see if now, in the position of Speaker, if those will still be his priorities and, if so, we welcome the debate on the substance."
While Republicans praise Mr Ryan as perhaps their party's best "ideas man", some colleagues said that when Mr Ryan was afforded his best chance to potentially advance sweeping fiscal reforms - as a member in 2010 of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a bipartisan panel - he ultimately chose partisan politics and Republican unity over a potentially far-reaching compromise.
Mr Ryan, in his speech, called for a more conciliatory approach.
"We have nothing to fear from honest differences, honestly stated," he said.
"If you have ideas, let's hear them. I believe a greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us."
NEW YORK TIMES