From the day Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) won the speaker’s gavel, he had exactly six weeks and a day until one of his first major deadlines as the GOP’s leader.
Friday, he blew through it.
In October, then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivered Ryan a big old gift in when he passed a bipartisan, two-year budget deal that increased the budget by $80 billion as his final high wire-act as a beaten-down speaker. Gone were the threats of a government shutdown and credit default. But Ryan has been tasked with the arguably more complicated job of allocating that money to agencies and defending the integrity of the so-called omnibus spending package from poison pill policy riders. On top of all of that, the one-time Ways and Means chairman must pass a $900 billion tax extender package before the new year.
This may be the week when observers will finally see whether Ryan — when pushed up against a real deadline — can seamlessly do what Boehner always struggled with: secure the support or at the very least the respect of the House Freedom Caucus types who ultimately ended Boehner’s speakership. With a $1.1 trillion bipartisan spending bill to pass, there are 1.1 trillion things to potentially infuriate the right wing of his conference. Soon it may be a bit clearer if Ryan really is the Freedom Caucus charmer the moderates dreamed he could be or just a “Boehner 2.0“
So far, Ryan’s approach has been markedly different. On the Hill, there is widespread agreement than Ryan is more transparent and open, but he has not had to do the hard work yet of pushing a major spending bill across the finish line. He is the new guy in the speaker’s chamber with plenty of goodwill and political capital to burn. But corralling his rank-and-file members while at the same time ushering through a bill that can pass muster with Democrats is the same onerous process it has always been.
Democratic and Republican aides observing Ryan told TPM that the new speaker is more knowledgable about individual policy proposals and riders than Boehner ever was. As the Republican Party’s budget wunderkind for years, Ryan is interested and detail oriented, aides said. But Ryan doesn’t make all the decisions. A a former chairman, Ryan often pushes decisions down to committee leaders whenever possible.
Ryan instructed House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) to trim down the riders from thousands to dozens. He wanted Rogers to have the power to make some of the hard choices.
Ryan’s team, McConnell’s team and Democrats have kept negotiations close to the vest. Even members on the appropriations committee say they are not privy to all the sticking points of the negotiation. But some of Ryan’s biggest headaches have –as they always do–spilled into the public view.
Conservative members have pressured Ryan to extend the omnibus negotiations all the way into January arguing it gives the GOP more leverage not to be up against the holiday deadline.
Conservatives and Democrats have teamed up against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to end caps on campaign committee spending in coordination with candidate campaigns out of fear it could upend tea party challenges in primaries.
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi is now insisting the omnibus roll back a law banning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence.
All the while, a major question mark remains on whether Ryan will push for legislation in the omnibus that makes it harder for Syrian refugees to be resettled in the U.S. The bill passed out of the House with broad bipartisan support, but Senate Democrats and the White House have balked at the proposal.
Ryan knew the problems would be brimming so he planned ahead.
Shortly after being elected speaker, Ryan introduced an additional conference meeting into the GOP schedule aimed at giving members a chance to voice their wishes and concerns regarding the omnibus negotiations. He also asked Rogers to host half a dozen committee listening sessions. Those meetings were also designed to clearly distinguish between what was and was not legislatively possible. Defunding Planned Parenthood? No way. Making reforms to Dodd-Frank? Maybe.
House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) told Politico, “Boehner would over promise and under deliver,” but Ryan’s strategy has been to be blunt and under promise with members.
Especially with the omnibus, Ryan has painted it as one last relic from the Boehner reign that they must contend with before the conference marches on with a clean slate and new leadership, members have said.
“This is something I more or less inherited from the last regime,” Ryan told reporters last week.
Democrats–in many ways– have given Ryan more negotiating room than they have in years, which is an indication that progress is being made and negotiations are serious. In the past, shutdown whispers began early and were echoed until proven otherwise. This time around –even as Ryan passed the first deadline–leaders have maintained the omnibus will be finished before the holidays.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), says the process has been moving forward, but is slow because “we have a different speaker and there is a little bit of getting to know each other’s negotiating style.”
“Each side is putting down its own markers,” Cole says. “We are not going to let them jam us, and I am sure they are saying the same thing.”
Only time will tell if Ryan’s inclusivity breeds goodwill or dysfunction, however. Boehner was often talking with his members and taking their thoughts under advisement right up until push came to shove and there was a deadline.
We have yet to see what Ryan does when faced with a glaring deadline situation.
When Ryan announced last week the House and Senate would pass a short-term funding bill as it skated by the original Dec. 11 deadline, Ryan dismissed the deadline as “arbitrary.”
“We want to get it right. We don’t want to rush legislation,” Ryan said.
But long negotiations have a tendency to give way to public opposition and this week will be the first time we see if Ryan can maintain his balancing act between being the inclusive speaker and the speaker who can deliver.