Paul Ryan, the budget wunderkind who was elected speaker only after a united House GOP dragged him into the job, is finding himself in the exact same position as former House Speaker John Boehner: unable to find consensus in his conference.
Just months after being elected as speaker with the promise he’d return the House to what is called “regular order,” Ryan will miss an April 15 deadline to pass a budget even as he still seeks to find consensus around one.
“It’s important for Paul,” said Rep. Peter King (R-NY) on passing a budget. “It’s important to anyone who is speaker, I think because it is what we are supposed to be doing. It is regular order. And with him being budget chairman and even apart from that, it lays out the roadmap for the House for the year.”
The irony for Ryan is that the budget debacle unfolding on his watch is more about perception than an actual legislative crisis. Under a fiscal agreement struck between outgoing House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, there is already a 2017 funding bill in place, a parting gift from Boehner that was intended to save Ryan from the kind of high profile vote wrangling he is facing now as GOP schisms bubble up in an election year.
Ryan, however, had made a pledge to bring back “regular order” and restore the budget process to the committees, all an effort to encourage his conference to feel a stake in the process and unite his party.
Ryan’s token of goodwill appears to be backfiring.
“Part of the problem is we’re a victim of the success of the fact that we have appropriations numbers already in law. We already have an agreement in law,” Ryan said Thursday during a press conference. “That has taken pressure off of the budget situation and that is one of the challenges we are dealing with.”
The disagreement raging in the House is over how much Republicans should set out to spend with their top line number. House Budget Chairman Tom Price released a budget plan earlier this year that set discretionary spending at $1.07 trillion for 2017 but some conservatives in the House wanted to see $30 billion less in spending. Ryan has said he still wants to see a budget, but the intransigence of the far right could prove impossible to untangle without a looming deadline.
Boehner often faced deep divides within his party over everything from ag subsidies to raising the debt ceiling. There were numerous occasions when the Republican whip team was scrambling before a vote to ensure must-pass spending legislation wouldn’t wither on the House floor. There were hopes that Ryan’s speakership would be more seamless than that.
Stylistically, Ryan is vastly different than Boehner. Even as he has faced disagreement in his conference over the budget, members report Ryan is approachable, open and willing to listen to their concerns.
“The general feeling of the Freedom Caucus members is not only that Speaker Ryan has given them an honest hearing, but that he’s done the same for the Tuesday group and everyone in between, and that’s all you can ask for,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).
Ryan has said numerous times that he intends to keep talking and working with his conference.
“He is absolutely different,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA). “The whole climate in this conference has changed. There is one place I am in support of climate change and that was in the Republican conference.”
However, the math is no different for Ryan than it always was for Boehner. Ryan still has the same hard job of uniting a conference that is deeply divided on just about everything. Ryan’s hold up on the budget comes from the freedom caucus, the same ragtag group of conservatives who were a thorn in Boehner’s side and ultimately pushed him toward resignation.
And, the budget is just one of the areas of disagreement Ryan is dealing with at the moment. In an election year, tensions run high and a controversial bill to restructure Puerto Rican debt is also dividing the GOP. Meanwhile, Ryan’s had to beat back rumors about his own political aspirations, taking out time earlier this week to declare once and for all that he is not seeking the Republican nomination for president.
But, the budget, even though it is merely a messaging document, reveals what was already expected: Ryan cannot singlehandedly save the Republican Congress from itself.
Ryan has said that he still intends to pass a budget this year, but the reality is he has got his work cut out for him. Boehner’s absence doesn’t make the job of speaker any easier.