The rabble-rousing conservatives who were such a problem for former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are giving new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) the benefit of the doubt on the year-end funding package that Republicans and Democrats finished hammering out Tuesday night.
Some of the House’s most conservative members credit Ryan’s honeymoon period or their desire to skip town for the holidays for smoothing the path for them not to stand in the way of a deal. And even the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives who may still be ready to vote against the $1.1 trillion spending bill aren’t willing to throw their new speaker under the bus over the deal.
“It’s just time to get this behind us,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). “Boehner claimed to clean out the barn when he left, but actually I think that this is the barn cleaning that is going on right now.”
Massie’s words echo Ryan’s own words in describing the spending bill as the last piece of unfinished business from Boehner’s tenure, rather than the first piece of business under Ryan.
Under Boehner, 11th hour budget negotiations all but guaranteed intra-party fireworks in the GOP conference. In the end, moderates typically held their noses and voted along with Democrats while a few dozen conservatives slammed their leaders over the perceived Republican capitulations.
But this time, members are giving Ryan a break, at least in part in hopes of making a dash for the holiday exit. They have a lot of reasons they say they are giving Ryan a break. Members argue it’s not Ryan that’s the problem. It’s the lack of leadership earlier in the year. They point out their new leader had six weeks and little leverage heading into negotiations.
“He passed the test in terms of process and openness. He passed with flying colors” says Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican member of the Freedom Caucus who is still undecided on how he will vote for the omnibus. “Don’t judge the process on the product. The product may end up with a ‘no’ vote, but the process certainly gets a ‘yes’ vote.”
Ryan went out of his way even in a short window of time to include conservatives in the budget negotiation. He hosted extra conference meetings and made himself available for questions. Meadows reported he had “dozens of conversations with Ryan” over the stretch of the negotiations “even if was bad news.”
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) had kind words for Ryan as well even though he was frustrated his bipartisan legislation to impose tougher requirements on Syrian refugees failed to make it into the final bill.
“He has done a really good job of keeping the process as open as possible and keeping members informed of how it was going,” Hudson said. “But, he didn’t have a lot of leverage and I am disappointed with a lot of policy riders that didn’t make it.”
Hudson says ultimately he’s not sure how he would get to ‘yes,’ but he is willing to give it a look keeping in mind that Ryan’s already made assurances that next year the House will proceed under regular order.
Rep. David Brat (R-VA), a member of the Freedom Caucus, also plans to vote no, but he applauded Ryan for already getting the budget appropriations process moving for next year.
“There has been a real change,” Brat says of Ryan’s strategy. “The calendar next year is a real change in ink already. The budget committee is going to start earlier and finish its product earlier so a lot of good news on process.”
Freedom Caucus member Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) says Ryan is experiencing the benefit of a “honeymoon period” at the moment. Essentially, he argues there is very little substantial difference between an omnibus under Ryan’s leadership and one under Boehner’s. In fact, Sanford says the inclusion of a major cyber security package in the omnibus is just a repeat of the kinds of policies Boehner used to pull. But, he argues, the process shows just how much political capital Ryan has acquired.
“Omnibus bills by their nature are an abomination of the process. So you just accept that it’s ugly.” Sanford said. “Somebody–whose name I won’t mention– said in some ways this is worse. This is the same thing we would have gotten with Boehner, but now we have a much more able spokesman who at least makes it sound good. “