Two Arizona lawmakers buck their parties in vote for new House speaker

31 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

CNN’s “State of the Union” — Ryan; former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Reps. The first impulse is to express compassion for Paul Ryan, because he now occupies the most thankless job in Washington – one that entombed John Boehner in such profound gloom he evoked that famous description of Nixon: “The darkness, reaching out for the darkness.” But the impulse dissolves before long, because it’s easy to recall that compassion has never been an attribute to which Paul Ryan is linked.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? 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. But the two already have a good sense of each other — and beside John Boehner, Ryan’s probably the House Republican Obama’s spent the most time with.

The Wisconsin Republican fears that government programs are “a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency” even though he and his family received Social Security survivor’s benefits throughout adolescence, or right around the time his mind was blown by Atlas Shrugged. 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. That’s not likely to change: He leads a caucus that routinely rails about the welfare state and the pending fiscal apocalypse, and whose idea of a bold deficit-reduction plan almost always includes the defunding of social ills such as school lunches, hospice, and Sesame Street.

Somehow they never get around to fixing Social Security and Medicare, but they avoid political peril because their supporters don’t prioritize governing as much as they do cultural shooting wars. 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. Looking ahead to what the dynamic between them will be now, aides to the president and new speaker point to their collaboration on getting trade fast-track through Congress last summer as a model. One of Ryan’s budgets proposed a decrease in the top tax rate from 35 to 25 percent – a change that would have cost the government $4 trillion over a decade – and failed to identify the big tax deductions he said he would eliminate to fill the revenue crater. 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.

People in both offices note that the two leaders helped produce a bill with bipartisan support and tea-party opposition that the president eagerly signed. Put it this way: When Newt Gingrich denounces your Medicare voucher plan as “right-wing social engineering,” you’ve pretty much reached the tipping point. 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. 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.

They’re a lot less eager to talk about what happened behind-the-scenes to get there: significant collaboration between the president’s staff in the West Wing and Ryan’s staff on the Ways and Means Committee, along with several direct phone calls the White House still won’t confirm between Obama and Ryan. Ryan took over the speakership Thursday, after his predecessor was put out of his misery by the 38-member Freedom Caucus, a claque of smart but crabby ideologues (“Crazies,” as New York congressman Peter King suggests) from blood-red districts who are bound together by their hatred of government. 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. 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.

Ryan needs these people to survive, so he threw a perfunctory nod toward imposing “regular order,” where legislation is written on the committee level and sent upstairs to the Speaker (and never mind that a Freedom Caucus bill being signed by the current president is a remote possibility). Facing each other now as Ryan’s setting the tone for his speakership and Obama’s looking to wrap up his presidency is the latest stage in a long relationship between the two self-styled wonks.

Ryan bought some time when Boehner negotiated a budget compromise that will keep government running until 2017, a deal that Ryan said “stinks,” even though his own staff worked on the key Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provision. 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.

But he already showed he was willing to be emasculated by the Freedom Caucus by pledging not to bring up immigration reform “as long as Barack Obama is president.” So much for progress. 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. It took a dive after Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 — proof to West Wingers at the time that they’d been silly to think he’d ever sacrifice his brand to work with them.

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. 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 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. 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.

The generational shift — Boehner is 65, Ryan is 45 — is important in building trust with a group of House Republicans who largely come from Ryan’s generation and have not spent much time in Washington. “Paul and I have worked together as a team,” McCarthy said. “We traveled, we recruited, did that. 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. It’s more, according to people who’ve spoken to Obama about Ryan, that he’s always seen “potential.” Obama doesn’t see him as an intellectual equal, those people say, but he does see Ryan as “cerebral,” “someone who we could talk with.” That feeling is shared throughout the building. Democrats say the fights ahead could resemble the showdown earlier this year when the rest of the federal government was fully funded for the year but there was a near-shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. There’s not a long list of issues to use the fast-track model for in the 15 months Obama has left: actually passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and criminal justice reform, probably.

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. From this perspective, we can predict Ryan’s approach to future tests of long-term fiscal responsibility. “No new taxes, more defense spending, and if the price is to bust the caps on social spending, it’s worth it,” will be Ryan’s prescription for obtaining the approval of both the more conservative Republicans and the Democrats in Congress.

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. Ryan’s already promised House Republicans that he would put off any overhaul until 2017 — which White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday called “certainly disappointing,” particularly since Ryan’s backed comprehensive reform in the past.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough is the exception, bonding with Ryan over their shared Midwestern Catholic roots, ribbing each other over Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalries.

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