Dynamic duo: Can Paul Ryan and Barack Obama work together?

31 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Boehner tried to ‘clean out the barn’ for Ryan, but key issues remain.

On Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan’s start as speaker of the House has been smoothed by the agreement outgoing Speaker John Boehner reached days ago with President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress. John Boehner of Ohio who decided to leave in part because a group of about 40 outspoken conservatives threatened to force a no-confidence vote on his speakership. So in keeping with the uncharacteristic if qualified hopefulness that’s run through the past couple Saturday dispatches, we give you the case for why things could really, actually, finally be different in the House under newly-minted Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan’s fingerprints are not on this most recent budget deal; it was done by a speaker who has nothing to fear from conservative Republicans because he’s on his way out, anyway.

Ryan said Thursday it’s time to fix a “broken” House and begin solving the nation’s problems instead of adding to them, and he’s expected to talk more Sunday about how he will approach the new job. Thus, for now, Ryan can keep faith with the 40 members of the Republican Freedom Caucus, many of whom profess to prefer a government shutdown to abandonment of conservative fiscal or social policies. But he could not pull that off completely while also passing a sweeping budget deal, so as Boehner (R-Ohio) exits, he leaves behind several key issues that will test Ryan’s leadership style and determine whether the Wisconsin Republican will have any more success in wrangling the GOP caucus than Boehner did.

As Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate, Ryan was half of a ticket that won nearly 61 million votes nationwide. “I don’t think there’s another time in American history when somebody becomes Speaker who millions of people have already voted for and know in a way that most legislative people are never known. By Nov. 20, Congress must act on the expiring authority for the federal highway program, an issue that also could lead to another flare-up of the expiration of the Export-Import Bank’s authority to issue new loan guarantees. He’s a national political figure outside of and in addition to the institution.” That gives Ryan political leverage with recalcitrant members of his own conference never enjoyed by John Boehner, the consummate insider he’s replacing. After that comes the Dec. 11 deadline for filling in all of the agency-by- agency details of spending plans, a process that was made easier because this week’s budget framework resolved the larger fight over the top-line dollar figure but defers intricate fights over funding levels for hot-button issues. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, asked Boehner not to be appointed to the “super committee” charged with solving the long-term problem of entitlement spending.

So, while the nameplates outside the speaker’s office formally flipped Friday morning, many of the same fights that led the most conservative faction to cause trouble for the old speaker remain in place for the new one. “I think there’s a chance that part of the government will be shut down if Ryan can’t control these 50 or 60 people,” Sen. Despite his youth — at 45, Ryan is the youngest Speaker in nearly 150 years — he calls on a rare depth of experience in the chamber: He started there as a staffer right out of college and was elected to the first of his nine terms at 28. In 2010, he had been a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which had been given a similar charge and whose recommendations would have come to the House and Senate for votes if 14 of its 18 members agreed. Your solution is MORE POWER FOR THE SPEAKER?!?!?!?” Ingraham: “From misrepresenting the outrageous Fast Track &TPP to amnesty & foreign workers, list of demands, Ryan’s possibly the worst Spkr choice.” Ryan’s amazing free-fall from grace seems to be part of a larger race to the radical right, not only among powerful forces with the Republican Party, which now seem to be fundamentally opposed to governing and legislating, but also within key portions of the right-wing media. How reassuring it would be if we actually fixed the tax code, put patients in charge of their health care, grew our economy, strengthened our military, lifted people out of poverty, and paid down the debt.

In that, he’s unlike Boehner’s two previous would-be successors, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, both of whom vaulted into leadership in their second terms on the strength of their political fundraising. To be sure, the most dangerous showdowns have been largely neutralized for the next two years, averting the sort of fiscal brinkmanship that helped cause a financial market drop in the summer of 2011 over fears of default and then the 16-day shutdown of the federal government in 2013. If your only experience is in leadership, “you’re mostly thinking about competition with Democrats, either electorally or legislatively,” the lawmaker said. “Most members don’t live in that world. Most members live in the world of their committee.” And Ryan, an ideologue who nonetheless has built a track record of working across the aisle, has pledged to return legislative agency to the committees — a move that should encourage his disaffected fringe to rejoin the process.

Friday in the Senate, also set for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 the combined spending limits for federal agencies, providing $80 billion in relief for the military and non-defense agencies. Now, as the now third most powerful man in the country, Ryan will have to find a way to partner with President Barack Obama without appearing to neglect his House. Moral authority. “He didn’t want the damn job in the first place and everybody knows it.” That doesn’t mean he can count on everyone in his ranks to help, “but they’ll at least feel bad about not helping for a change.” There are a thousand ways this could go sideways.

Yet “Ryan hasn’t undergone any sort of David Brockian-type worldview change that would warrant labeling him an apostate,” wrote conservative Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast. He still believes that social programs are a “hammock.” He still believes that the Social Security survivor benefits that he and his family received throughout his adolescence cause dependency on other people and their families. No doubt for House Republicans, and the party more broadly, the route back toward a coherent governing vision — and the cohesion to execute it — remains long and jagged.

A portion of the conservative press, of course, has never been in love with an establishment-type players like Jeb Bush, so his lack of support this year hasn’t been surprising. The question is whether this group of roughly 40 hard-line conservatives is ready to extend a period of goodwill on the issues immediately in front of Ryan so that the focus can remain on internal changes rather than ideological clashes. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close friend and now top lieutenant of Ryan’s, argued after Ryan’s swearing-in that there would be a honeymoon period that would allow the immediate issues to be resolved. Ryan and Murray walked away from the automatic cuts and raised spending for both social programs and defense by $45 billion in 2013-14, and $18 billion in 2014-15.

In these two instances, Ryan displayed a willingness to postpone spending cuts, though he thought the deficit was choking America’s long-term economic health. There is a bond and a friendship there that makes me excited about going to work.” Democrats, however, are issuing warnings that they will not accept any controversial policy riders on the catch-all spending bill.

Boehner, categorized by critics as “unable or unwilling to do anything that would endanger his hold on power.” If nothing else, Ryan is willing to negotiate and open doors. “Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going,” he said Thursday. “We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.” Ryan was aiming to move his chairmanship from Budget to Ways and Means, and no Republican violating the “no new taxes” pledge could expect to become chairman of Congress’ premier tax-writing committee. So, if increased taxes jeopardize economic growth and allowing more government spending does not, it’s easy to see where Ryan’s policy choices would be.

In effect, we are now seeing the permanent end, not just a postponement, of the lower spending levels to which Congress earnestly committed itself four years ago. The sequester cuts were supposed to start in January, 2013, but they were postponed until March, 2013, then until October 2013, then, after the government shut down, until September 2015.

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