House Republicans

Get Ready for Speaker Paul Ryan

Congressman Paul Ryan speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore)

Congressman Paul Ryan speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore)

After weeks of speculation and uncertainty on Capitol Hill, the Republican House majority finally appears to have its next speaker in sight: Congressman Paul Ryan. 

Remember him? The conservative budget guru from Wisconsin who would have been vice president three years ago if Mitt Romney had won. He’s set to be selected for the position on Thursday, and now it looks like he has enough Republican votes to win the job.  
 
Ryan initially seemed disinterested in replacing Speaker John Boehner, who is retiring to avoid more infighting in his caucus and after he realized his dream of having a Pope address Congress.

Ryan's reluctance isn't surprising. Trying to run the House with his own troops in revolt is a tough job, especially for a guy who says he will only take the job if he still can go home to Janesville every weekend to be with his family.
 
Despite pressure from Boehner and Romney, Ryan said he was perfectly happy holding onto his dream job as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. But that changed late last week after it became clear no one else had a remote chance of stitching together a majority of the Republican caucus.
 
Ryan became a household name after rising to the top of the House Budget Committee in 2007. Since then, he’s proposed several budget plans with bold social service cuts, such as replacing Medicare with a voucher system and repealing the Affordable Care Act. 
 
Two years ago, Ryan emerged as the key Republican negotiator in a budget deal co-authored by Democratic Senator Patty Murray. It was a rare example of bipartisanship in a time increasingly marred by political polarization.  
 
A famously devout fan of controversial novelist Ayn Rand and heavy metal bands, Ryan stands in sharp contrast to the man he’s poised to replace. And maybe that would be a good change for Congress, but don’t get your hopes up that Ryan’s latest rise in the ranks will do much to sew the Republican Party back together. 
 
With 247 members today, House Republicans hold their largest majority in decades, and Ryan’s ascent makes him the de facto leader of a splintered party conference, which includes the centrist Tuesday Group, the larger, very conservative Republican Study Committee and the radical, anti-establishment Freedom Caucus.
 
Ryan, a member of the Republican Study Committee, initially struggled to gain the approval of the Freedom Caucus, which consists of a few dozen representatives who have generally put in less time on Capitol Hill. Last week, about two-thirds of them came around, cautiously giving Ryan their blessing, but not promising to make his job any easier than Boehner’s.
 
Comprised of many members of the Tea Party movement, the Freedom Caucus refused to support any spending bill that did not strip all federal funding away from Planned Parenthood. In cases like that, the faction’s opposition can be just enough to bring the legislative process to a halt.  
 
Ryan's path appears to be easier than expected, thanks to Boehner, who managed to push through a debt ceiling and spending deal Wednesday. Congressional leaders struck the crucial two-year budget deal Monday night following negotiations with the Obama Administration.

Leaders hope to move the proposal along for a vote in the Senate, getting the dirty work out of the way just in time for Ryan’s entrance to the speakership. The deal has already met some resistance from Sen. Rand Paul, who vowed to filibuster the proposal.   
 
Chances are good the Freedom Caucus will remain a thorn in the side of any Speaker. Chances also are good that Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, who is in charge of fundraising for House Republicans, will take on an expanded role since Ryan won't hit the road like Boehner did.

The challenge for Ryan will be to figure out clever ways to negotiate with the White House, a more stable GOP majority in the Senate and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pushing for more job security, Ryan hopes to change a rule that allows a single member of the House to move for a vote to remove the speaker. In Boehner’s time, the rule has posed a constant threat to his hold over the speakership. That may be the only way to neuter the Freedom Caucus enough to get on with the business of legislating.

Nuclear Fallout and a Looming Shutdown Threat

House Speaker John Boehner returned to DC from summer recess to discover yet another rank-and-file revolt that could have repercussions on later voters and his political survival as Speaker.

House Speaker John Boehner returned to DC from summer recess to discover yet another rank-and-file revolt that could have repercussions on later voters and his political survival as Speaker.

The Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration looks like a done deal, which makes it all the more puzzling why House Republicans are arguing over how to vote to oppose it.

Politico.com reports that House GOP leaders returned from summer recess to discover a rank-and-file revolt. Every House Republican opposes the Iran nuclear deal, but some resist voting on a simple resolution of disapproval. That has forced the House leadership to come up with a plan, which will be shared with caucus members today, to quiet the discontent.

The agitation in the House has led political observers to wonder whether Speaker John Boehner can survive or whether he can steer some course on a debt ceiling vote later this fall to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Congress left town in August anticipating a high-octane advertising and lobbying campaign could sway Senate Democrats from supporting the Iran nuclear deal. However, a coordinated campaign led by the White House kept up pressure to support the deal, calling it the only deal Congress would see.

By the time Congress returned, more than 40 senators, including all four senators from Oregon and Washington, had come up publicly in support of the deal, ensuring that a presidential veto of a resolution of disapproval could not be overridden.

The specter of a clear path for the deal prompted House Republicans to call for other ways to express opposition. One idea was a resolution declaring Obama administration officials failed to send all parts of the deal, including side deals, to Congress. Another idea is to frame the House vote as a resolution of approval, which would force Obama allies to vote for the deal, not just against a resolution disapproving it.

Senate Republicans shrugged their shoulders at House proposals and appear on track to put forward a resolution of disapproval, which all Senate Republicans and a few Democrats are expected to support. If there is nothing comparable in the House, then no legislation may ever reach Obama's desk for him to veto. Congress only has until September 17 to act.

With the Iran deal more or less sewed up, the maneuvering in the House now seems more like a dress rehearsal for the looming debt ceiling vote last this fall. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have dismissed any effort to force a government shutdown, but conservative activists may not give up. Boehner has little choice but to find ways to placate his restive conservative wing.

"Foreign Affairs" published an online article examining what might happen after the 15-year period covered by the Iran nuclear deal comes to an end. At a minimum, there will be new leadership in Iran, plus the effects of rapidly changing demographics that could make the post-pact period a very different ballgame.

Cantor Loss Could Lead to Walden Promotion

The upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday could be a boon for Oregon, as Congressman Greg Walden will seek to step up from his current GOP leadership post.

Walden, the lone Republican in Oregon's congressional delegation, could be in the mix for a loftier leadership position after Cantor’s July resignation following his surprise defeat at the hands of a little-known economics professor backed by the Tea Party in this week's Virginia primary election. 

Walden easily survived his own Tea Party challenge in Oregon's primary last month.

Walden chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. He is close to House Speaker John Boehner, who is coming to Oregon for a Walden fundraiser. Walden is friendly with Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, who wasted no time launching his bid to succeed Cantor.

Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes says Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the Republican conference — the fourth ranking GOP leadership perch — also is interested in Cantor's former job. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California is next in the leadership pecking order and can be expected to vie to move up.

Senator Cruz Does Custer

You know something must be wrong when a U.S. senator threatens to filibuster the bill he supports to win. That's exactly what Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposes to do to block implementation of Obamacare.

Cruz has been barnstorming the country to put the fear of God in his fellow Republicans to make one last stand to block the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature first-term achievement, before it goes fully into effect.

The vehicle for this derailment of a three-year-old law, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is something called a Continuing Resolution, essentially a catch-all funding bill that will allow the federal government to continue to operate when its new fiscal year begins October 1.

Last week, the GOP-controlled House muscled through a Continuing Resolution that would defund Obamacare. Senate Democrats, who control the upper chamber, scoffed at the idea and plan simply to amend the House-passed Continuing Resolution by deleting the Obamacare defunding provision. No problem, you say, since Democrats hold 54 seats and the amendment only requires 51 votes to pass.

Here is where Senate procedures come into play. Senators reserve the right to filibuster. A filibuster can be halted by a cloture vote, which requires 60 votes. Cruz is gambling he can round up 41 of the 45 Senate Republicans to join him in blocking cloture. He believes Senate Democrats will have little choice but to yield and ultimately agree to the House-passed Continuing Resolution.

Two Americas

The apparent demise of comprehensive immigration reform this year gives further evidence of a sharp political divide, revealing two starkly different American viewpoints, with little room and even less willingness to compromise.Listening to the debate on immigration reform in the Senate and House is like watching two parallel universes. In real terms, it reflects two Americas.

House GOP leaders made clear this week after a closed-door session with their members that they will have none of the Senate-passed immigration reform, which they branded as "fatally flawed."  The main flaw is a path to citizenship for 11 million or more undocumented workers and their families living in the United States.

Republicans talked about President Obama and his predecessors failing to secure U.S. borders against illegal immigrants. They deplored lax prosecution of illegal immigrants, notwithstanding the higher number of deportations carried out during Obama's presidency. They expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform, but one GOP congressman described it as sifting through the millions of people seeking to immigrate and selecting the applicants who will "produce more tax revenue than they consume."