Paul Ryan

The Wonder and Worry Surrounding Washington, DC

The nation’s capital is preparing for Christmas, but there isn’t much cheer on Capitol Hill as lawmakers narrowly avert a government shutdown, try to unsnarl problems in tax-cut legislation and muddle through sexual misconduct scandals

The nation’s capital is preparing for Christmas, but there isn’t much cheer on Capitol Hill as lawmakers narrowly avert a government shutdown, try to unsnarl problems in tax-cut legislation and muddle through sexual misconduct scandals

Congress temporarily averted a pre-Christmas federal government shutdown by approving a two-week spending resolutionHouse and Senate conferees are trying to work out differences, including an apparent $287 billion math error, in a $1.4 trillion tax-cut measure. House Speaker Paul Ryan foreshadowed entitlement spending cuts next year to curb a ballooning federal budget deficit.

A prominent Democratic House member and senator have resigned amid sexual misconduct scandals. An Arizona GOP congressman is quitting after discussing surrogacy with two staff members. Alabama is likely to send a new senator to Washington, DC who has been accused of dating teenage girls, denies any wrongdoing and says he would bring Alabama values to Capitol Hill.

President Trump announced he will send his long-promised infrastructure funding package to Congress in January without mentioning that private activity bonds, a key financing tool for transportation and affordable housing projects, may be eviscerated beforehand in tax legislation he has championed.

Trump efforts to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement are faltering amid concerns by many business sectors that what Trump wants in a new deal would hurt existing trade and endanger US manufacturing jobs. The United States has walked away from a trade deal with its Pacific Rim neighbors, but the deal is not dead. Japan is leading continuing talks, which could lead to provisions less favorable to the United States and, eventually a seat at the table for China.

Ignoring warnings by top Cabinet officials, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while urging progress on stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Two days later, Palestinian leaders refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence.

Revelations in the Russian election meddling investigation continue to roll out, inflamed by a Trump tweet, a whistleblower’s account and Donald Trump Jr. who said what he told his dad after the infamous meeting with Russians last summer was protected by attorney-client privilege.

People abroad might be excused for wondering and worrying what is happening in the United States. People who live in the United States are wondering and worrying, too.

The President goes out of his way to stir the pot – retweeting inflammatory videos, pulling the rug out from under his GOP Capitol Hill colleagues and amping up rhetoric aimed at North Korea. Congress has failed to deliver a major legislative victory to Trump in his first year in office and is still fumbling with the last-chance tax bill. A late addition to the Senate version that would retain the corporate alternative minimum tax has caused corporate leaders – putatively the biggest winners in the measure – to voice concern. Polling indicates the tax bill is unpopular, including with many Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans are growing even more polarized. After a Trump tweet, the House and Senate Democratic leaders refused to join a White House pow-wow on spending and debt ceiling legislation. Their GOP counterparts called the snub rude. Trump said Democrats were putting border security at risk.

The parties have been split over cultural issues for a long time, but sexual misconduct scandals have turned litmus tests into flash points. The resignations of Democratic Congressman John Conyers and Senator Al Franken, which were accelerated by a collective shove in their backs by fellow Democrats, put the party on presumably higher moral ground to denounce Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore and Trump, each of whom has been accused by multiple women for sexual misconduct. Arizona Congressman Trent Franks apparently got the message.

Ryan’s prediction that action will be needed next year to stem the budget deficit could push Congress onto third-rail political issues such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as Medicaid. Conservative GOP members want to boost military spending while trimming spending and the deficit. Democrats are pressing for more domestic spending and to keep hands off Social Security and Medicare.

It is not a pretty picture, with a bruising holiday mash-up looming between now and December 22 over a longer spending measure and an increase in the debt ceiling.

 

The Federal Fiscal Sudoku Game

Keeping up with a pending federal budget, a growing federal deficit, a looming massive federal tax cut and a surging stock market is a lot like playing fiscal Sudoku.

Keeping up with a pending federal budget, a growing federal deficit, a looming massive federal tax cut and a surging stock market is a lot like playing fiscal Sudoku.

For fiscal junkies, these are the best of times. The GOP-controlled House and Senate passed versions of a $4 trillion Fiscal Year 2018 budget, the United States logged last year the sixth largest budget deficit in history and the stock market reached record highs last week in anticipation of a major corporate tax cut, which the budget makes easier to pass.

In many ways, the fiscal news is like a jig-saw puzzle with pieces that don’t exactly fit together:

  • The Senate-passed FY 2018 budget measure leaves federal spending at current levels and provides for a major tax cut, which Republicans concede will increase the federal deficit in the short-term.
  • US Treasury announced the federal government finished FY 2017 with a $666 billion budget deficit, $80 billion more than the previous year, as spending grew by 3 percent, but revenues only increased by 1 percent.
  • Even though tax legislation hasn’t been finalized, Wall Street became giddy over a congressional budget with a reconciliation process that makes it politically easier to pass a tax cut without any Democratic support. The Dow Jones industrial average on Friday surged more than 165 points to a record 23,328. Shares of JP Morgan Chase hit an all-time high.

Republicans have campaigned for decades on fiscal discipline and shrinking the federal government. The recent news about tax cuts and budget deficits run contrary to that ideology, though House Speaker Paul Ryan assured in a media interview that deficits were still concerning to his political party.

Not concerning enough to blunt the drive to enact a tax cut by the end of the year that no one denies will increase the federal deficit. GOP supporters say tax cuts will stimulate the economy and eventually economic growth will erase the red ink. Democrats disagree, claiming supply-side, trickle-down economics hasn’t produced the bonanza of benefits promised by its supporters, just widened income inequality at the expense of the US middle class.

The FY 2018 budget, which retiring GOP Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee called a “hoax,” seems designed to enact a tax cut, not implement a spending strategy. The tax cut is viewed by GOP leaders – and their wealthier supporters – as must-pass legislation to overshadow congressional failure to repeal Obamacare before the 2018 mid-term elections.

In addition to the impact of a tax cut, there will be pressure on the federal budget over the next year as Congress approves substantial funding to pay for severe hurricane and wildfire relief. Trump administration efforts to undermine Obamacare may have unpredictable negative economic consequences. The prospect of military conflict with North Korea along with accelerated modernization of the US nuclear arsenal also could dramatically push up spending levels.

To counter higher deficits, the FY 2018 budget points to $1.5 trillion in spending cuts on Medicare and Medicaid over the next decade. Higher outlays for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and payments on the national debt were blamed for pushing up the deficit last year, which now equals 3.5 percent of US gross domestic product. The national debt now exceeds $20 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the national debt will rise to 91 percent of the US economy as early as 2027 absent any fiscal policy changes.

Keeping up with all this US fiscal activity is a little like playing a 3D Sudoku puzzle:

  • The House and Senate still need to agree on a final budget, which might come as early as this week if the House decides to accept the Senate version and skip a conference committee to iron out differences.
  • President Trump has dangled some tantalizing numbers about his dream tax-cut legislation, but there isn’t an official tax bill to review.
  • The budget reconciliation process might make it theoretically easier to pass tax legislation, but only three Senate Republican defections could doom the plan, a la Obamacare repeal. Given Trump’s testy relationships with a number of senators, a political roadblock isn’t inconceivable.
  • The budget reconciliation process isn’t a free ride. There are limits on how much the tax cut can raise the deficit, which could stoke a ferocious intra-GOP debate over what taxes cut.
  • While Democrats haven’t been consulted so far, they have been courted to support the tax cut. There are a lot of side issues that could come into play in the attempt to earn some level of bipartisan support.
  • Ryan has threatened to keep House members in session through Christmas to pass a tax bill. It may not be an idle threat.

Good Jobs Nation Tour Elevates Economic Issues

A labor-backed tour started this week that seeks to put pressure on the Trump administration to keep its campaign promises on jobs, but also may signal a move by Democrats to focus on bread-and-butter issues heading into mid-term elections next year.

A labor-backed tour started this week that seeks to put pressure on the Trump administration to keep its campaign promises on jobs, but also may signal a move by Democrats to focus on bread-and-butter issues heading into mid-term elections next year.

Potential Russian election collusion, failed repeal and replacement of Obamacare and a tone-deaf response to violence in Charlottesville has eroded, but didn’t eviscerate President Trump’s hard-core political support. The Good Jobs Nation tour that began this week could pose a more serious political threat.

The two-week tour is designed to put pressure on Trump to live up to his campaign promises on jobs.

“Trump ran as a working-class hero, so let’s look at the results,” Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Good Jobs Nation, told The Washington Post. “We’re seven months into his administration and wages are flat. People are still getting pink slips.”

The tour pointedly started in Indiana, home of the Carrier plant that starred in the Trump campaign and the early Trump presidency when he announced a deal with company management to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States instead of shifting them to Mexico in return for $700,000 per year in state tax breaks. Labor leaders say Carrier is laying off workers and moving manufacturing to Mexico despite the deal Trump negotiated.

“He made promises to working-class people,” said Chuck Jones, who represented steelworkers at the Carrier plant. “He said if he were president, jobs would not be leaving this country. Guess what? They still are. He could be signing executive orders. He’s not lifting a finger.”

Organized labor is also irked at Trump for turning his back on an Obama-era rule on overtime and a regulation requiring companies bidding on government projects to disclose labor law violations because business groups opposed them. The Communications Workers of America is upset because the Trump administration has failed to respond to its request for an executive order relating to US-based call centers.

Ironically, Trump has defended his record in office by pointing to an uptick on the stock market, continued steady job growth and a slight increase in wages – indicators Trump the candidate scorned as not reflecting the true economic condition staring at many American workers.

Souring relations with blue-collar workers is not a good political sign for Trump or Republicans generally. Those workers provided the marginal votes that enabled Trump in 2016 to carry traditionally Democratic states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and give him an electoral college victory.

The analytics of congressional districts don’t look all that promising for Democrats heading into the 2018 mid-term elections, which means they will need to bear down on economic issues to erode GOP electoral advantages.

The analytics of congressional districts don’t look all that promising for Democrats heading into the 2018 mid-term elections, which means they will need to bear down on economic issues to erode GOP electoral advantages.

The tour doesn’t overlook that fact. One of the stops is in Wisconsin, which will feature Randy Bryce, a labor organizer who is challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan in his re-election bid next year. Wisconsin is where Taiwan-based Foxconn has announced plans to build a plant to make components for the iPhone in exchange for $3 billion in subsidies, a deal that organized labor is opposing.

Trump, GOP leaders and business groups are likely to dismiss the Good Jobs Nation tour as a political ploy by organized labor and leftist Democrats, noting the kickoff speaker in Indianapolis is Senator Bernie Sanders. While the tour itself may not strike a decisive blow to the Trump presidency, it will elevate questions about Trump’s economic plans and his inability, at least so far, to move forward an economic agenda that includes tax cuts and infrastructure investment. Whether Democrats can take advantage is an open question.

Blue and Red State analytics aren’t all that encouraging for a major Democratic comeback in the 2018 mid-term election. But polls do indicate that the issue Trump supporters watch closely is boosting the economy and spreading the benefits to include people who feel left behind economically.

In the words of former White House adviser Steve Bannon, “The longer they [Democrats] talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

It will be worth tracking whether the Good Jobs Nation tour reveals a crack in Trump’s blue-collar support or signals a new emphasis by Democrats on bread-and-butter issues.

Looking Behind the Fuss over the CBO

The Congressional Budget Office, created in the Nixon era, has become a headline-grabber with its dramatic scoring on the number of Americans who would lose health insurance under various GOP health care plans.

The Congressional Budget Office, created in the Nixon era, has become a headline-grabber with its dramatic scoring on the number of Americans who would lose health insurance under various GOP health care plans.

GOP health care legislation has elevated the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) from an obscure arm of government to front-page news and a subject for snarky presidential tweets.
 
The ferocity of attacks on CBO’s integrity and accuracy prompted all eight former CBO directors to send a letter to Congress protesting the assaults, which most recently came from House Speaker Paul Ryan who called the scoring of Republican health care legislation “bogus.” A House member has filed an amendment to a major spending bill that would trim $15 million from CBO’s $48.5 million budget and result in a loss of 89 CBO jobs.
 
CBO was created in 1974 amid a fight between President Nixon and a Democratically controlled Congress over congressional competence to write budgets. CBO was made nonpartisan to produce independent analysis of budgetary and economic issues in support of the congressional budget process. The agency also provides cost estimates for legislation, but it offers no recommendations on policy questions.
 
CBO directors have been both Democrats and Republicans. Current CBO Director Keith Hall, a Republican who took over in 2015, served on President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers and was a critic of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called Hall “outside the economic mainstream.” When a GOP-controlled Congress installed Hall, it came with a direction to embrace dynamic scoring when evaluating the macroeconomic effects of legislation.
 
“CBO’s approach produces consistent comparisons of competing legislative proposals and unbiased projections of the impact of policy changes,” the former directors wrote.
 
The directors concede “even nonpartisan and high-quality analysis cannot always generate accurate estimates,” but they add that CBO estimates are “more accurate, on average, than estimates or guesses by people who are not objective and not as well informed as CBO’s analysts.” They noted CBO is transparent in its analytic techniques to make estimates and often turns to outside experts for advice.
 
The current fight over CBO was ignited with its scoring of various GOP health care bills to replace parts of Obamacare. Those scores showed huge drops in the number of Americans who would be covered by private health insurance and Medicaid. President Trump, administration officials and congressional leaders have questioned the accuracy of the predictions.
 
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, singled out a CBO analyst and questioned her objectivity because she previously worked at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Clinton. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican former CBO director who signed the letter, posted a tweet calling Mulvaney’s characterization a “disgrace.” Mulvaney subsequently apologized.
 
Republican sensitivities about CBO estimates on health care legislation date back to the Affordable Care Act, which critics note sharply under-estimated the cost Medicaid expansion and over-estimated the number of Americans who would enroll in the individual health insurance exchanges. Critics say CBO has a poor track record of predicting consumer behavior. Democrats have quarreled with CBO estimates, too.
 
Supporters believe that CBO continues to serve the purpose of giving a nonpartisan analysis of legislation that may not please either side of the political aisle, but arms congressional budget writers with a tool they can use to defend the constitutional prerogative of controlling the public purse. MIT economist David Autor says, "CBO has a good track record with a very difficult assignment. It errs, but not systematically or with partisan intent."
 
The kerfuffle over the CBO may be reprised as the Trump administration and congressional Republicans bring up tax legislation later this year. That process is guided by CBO’s cousin, the Joint Committee on Taxation, which scores tax proposals and effects on federal government deficits.

Another Government Shutdown Deadline Approaches

Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

If you think the presidential race seems repetitious, think about the prospect of another federal government shutdown. That might just happen on September 30 if Congress can’t pass legislation to fund continuing operations.

This potential shutdown has all the hallmarks of earlier ones – the right-wing faction of the House GOP caucus is balking at a short continuing resolution to push major budget decisions past the November 8 general election when a new president will be elected and Senate control could flip from Republicans to Democrats.

The 42-member Freedom Caucus wants to avoid an omnibus spending package in a lame-duck session of Congress. GOP House leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have expressed support for approving a continuing resolution this month that would maintain existing spending levels until around Christmas.

If Freedom Caucus members hold firm, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be staring at the same dilemma that bedeviled and ultimately unseated his predecessor, John Boehner – turning to Democrats for the needed votes to approve a spending bill. Democrats have their own priorities and have stymied Republican proposals of late.

House Republicans are huddling to find a work-around after Congress returned earlier this week after a seven-week recess. Preventing a government shutdown is just one of many spending issues up in the air at this point.

Congress left town in July without approving a spending measure to combat the Zika virus, which has emerged as more of a threat in Miami and potentially other parts of the South than previously anticipated.

The presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is tightening up as the candidates seek to distinguish themselves on a range of issues, including national security, which will be the subject of an NBC-sponsored commander-in-chief forum tonight. Before the event, Trump said he favors releasing the Pentagon budget from the spending constraints that apply across the board to all federal agencies.

Some conservatives in Congress have echoed Trump's view, but they face the problem of what to cut to compensate for higher defense spending. Democrats, including President Obama, oppose selectively excusing defense spending from overall spending constraints.

Congressional Democrats and Obama appear in policy lock-step in support of a short-term spending bill that will push bigger budget questions beyond election day. That position is buttressed by the serious prospect that Democrats could regain control of the Senate though the GOP majority in the Senate hasn’t warmed up to the idea of closing down the federal government.

There is little question the budget priorities of a President Clinton and a President Trump would differ substantially, which makes the looming stalemate over a stopgap continuing resolution even stickier. It also raises the question of whether an actual government shutdown would help or hurt Trump or Clinton.

Trump has positioned himself as a political outsider with the personal experience of knowing how the system works and what needs to change. Clinton has a hard time escaping the “insider” label, but can be expected to argue that now is not the time to threaten or shutter the federal government, given the precarious momentum of the economic recovery and a flurry of foreign threats.

The Freedom Caucus may be wary of Trump in the White House, but they worry more about a Clinton victory in November, combined with a Democratic takeover in the Senate. They may argue now is potentially the last time they have the leverage for major cuts in federal spending and a budget boost for the military. What will be interesting to watch in the next three weeks is whether the Freedom Caucus actually has the leverage it imagines.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

Clinton Joins in Zika Finger-Pointing

After a newborn child died from a Zika-related illness in Texas, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of critics bashing Congress for not yet providing money to fight the disease.  

After a newborn child died from a Zika-related illness in Texas, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of critics bashing Congress for not yet providing money to fight the disease.  

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the Zika blame game as she condemned Congress for failing to provide funding to combat the deadly disease after a Texas infant died from Zika-related complications.

In Februrary, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to respond to the spread of the Zika virus abroad and prepare for its feared arrival in the United States. Despite multiple proposals from both chambers in the following months, Congress left town in July without an agreement on Zika funding. 

Negotiations came to a screeching halt when Senate Democrats blocked a last-ditch, $1.1 billion package to fight the virus. Democrats were on board with the funding level, but pulled their support when provisions were added in conference to relax EPA regulations, protect the flying of the Confederate flag and prevent Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus.

With Congress in the middle of its seven-week summer recess, a newborn baby in Texas with Zika-related birth defects has died. The news comes alongside four new Zika cases reported in Florida.

While both parties have spent the past few weeks blaming one another for inaction, Democrats have taken a new approach. Several top Democrats, including President Obama, have urged Republican leadership to cut the recess short and return to Washington to pass a bipartisan measure at the funding level requested by the administration.

After the news in Texas broke, Clinton joined the blame game. In a speech in Florida, Clinton urged Republicans to come back to Washington and “pass the bipartisan funding package the Senate passed.” Clinton was referring to the original $1.1 billion compromise package reached by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA), absent the controversial policy riders that emerged in the conference report.

Republicans have yet to budge and repeatedly point to the proposals Democrats rejected. In a recent op-ed, House Speaker Paul Ryan writes, “[Democrats] blocked our plan not once, but twice – a blatant ploy in an election year.” The Speaker added, “Because of their actions, this funding is in limbo. It shouldn’t be.”

Although the recent Zika cases may not cause Congress to trim its recess, Zika funding will certainly remain a hot topic when members return.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has shifted $589 million, most of which came from Ebola resources within the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of State/USAID, to be used for Zika-related prevention and treatment.   

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

 

The Unsettled Presidential Election

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their respective party presidential nominations sewn up, but their general election campaigns face a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliar political terrain.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their respective party presidential nominations sewn up, but their general election campaigns face a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliar political terrain.

By default or delegate count, the 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations appear set. However, the campaigns and party unification processes are anything but settled.

Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump faces high-profile defections from prominent Republican leaders and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton keeps losing primary elections to Bernie Sanders.

Trump meets this week with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has withheld his support from Trump. For Trump’s part, he claims he is ushering in a new-look Republican Party that may make party unity efforts a nice, but not necessary sidelight. That new look also may not include conservatives who say they won’t vote for Trump or Clinton.

Clinton has turned her political guns on a general election showdown with Trump, despite a still vigorous challenge by Sanders. However, just when it appeared Clinton would trounce Trump in a landslide, a poll by highly regarded Quinnipiac shows Clinton is in a dead heat or losing to Trump in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Sanders’ double-digit win in West Virginia this week added further doubt to whether Clinton can attract votes from disaffected white voters and political independents.

Trump and Clinton have the shared distinction of being the two most disliked presidential candidates in recent history. As such, both are having trouble appealing to their respective party bases.  Trump has shaky support on the conservative right and Clinton on the progressive left.

The Trump-Clinton race may come to a battle of identity politics. Trump scores with male voters, while Clinton does well with women and minority voters. Trump does poorly with establishment Republicans. Clinton flunks with younger Democratic voters.

In previous presidential elections, the candidates' experience and what they stood for counted most. In 2016, not so much. Trump touts his lack of political experience and has lurched around on issues like a bumper car driver. Clinton has been criticized for her experience and her wonkish policy views.

After Ted Cruz and John Kasich bowed out following Trump’s decisive primary win in Indiana, Trump told NBC News he looked forward to a principled general election campaign centered on policy. The next day, Trump returned to form and resumed his “Crooked Hillary” refrain. He hasn’t let up since.

Clinton immediately put up attack ads pointing out Trump’s outlandish statements and dubious policies, only to be warned by supportive political observers that getting into a gutter fight with Trump was a losing strategy. Strategists said Trump methodically disposed of GOP opponents who attacked him,  who famously noted that he could shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t cost him a vote.

Perhaps a more troubling concern in the Clinton camp is the political viability of “outsider” messaging, especially when it comes to international trade and “rigged” systems. A West Virginia voter told a reporter after he voted in his state’s primary that he cast his ballot for Sanders because he “spoke the people.” The only other person running for president he would vote for is Trump.

One Democratic pollster said the problem boils down to a good “origin story.” Trump and Sanders pinpoint what and who is to blame. Clinton tells a more complex and conflicted story. Trump has mastered sloganeering. Sanders has powerful sound bites. Clinton has nuanced, detailed policy papers.

Presidential nominating conventions are more than a month away and there are still a few primaries left, including contests in Oregon and Washington. The eventual nominees are clear. How their campaigns will unfold and the odds on either’s ultimate success remain as unsettled as ever.

Paul Ryan: Designated Relief Pitcher

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A move is afoot to draft Paul Ryan as a GOP presidential candidate, which would confirm the Wisconsin Republican’s role as his party's designated relief pitcher.

Ryan, with seeming reluctance, saved the day by agreeing to serve as House Speaker after conservatives drove John Boehner out of the game and objected to other candidates. Ryan was cast as the only Republican that all factions could support.

That’s the thinking behind the Draft Speaker Ryan movement. The Republican Party is in disarray. Donald Trump is leading the presidential pack, but a faceless GOP establishment cabal is desperately trying to block him from winning the nomination. The party’s 2012 standard bearer has called out Trump as a con man and a phony. Marco Rubio has said Trump wet his pants and has tiny hands.

Beyond a distrust and dislike for Trump, Republican establishment figures worry that another Democrat will succeed President Obama. Some have concluded the only viable alternative to defeat this fall is Ryan.

Ted Cruz has made inroads on Trump’s march to the nomination, winning in Kansas and Maine over the weekend and inching closer to Trump’s delegate total. But Cruz could be the only GOP figure detested more than Trump.

Earle Mack, a former ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush, spearheaded a $1 million Super PAC to draft Ryan. As he did to importuning to become House Speaker, Ryan has dismissed the draft movement and disavowed the SuperPac in a letter to the Federal Election Commission.

It is hard for Ryan to deny an interest in the nation’s top job. He was Romney’s running mate in 2012 and in the eyes of many political observers outshone the top guy on the ballot. Ryan has injected himself into the presidential primary by deploring Trump's racially charged statements.

As Speaker, Ryan has quieted the conservative rebellion, even as he pushed through controversial budget bills. Conservative members said they still disagree with compromising and relying on Democratic votes, but they support Ryan because he has reached out to them and listened.

Ryan has pushed the conservative agenda, but also promised more than just red meat, including a comprehensive health care plan to replace Obamacare.

The 2016 presidential election has been anything but normal, with insults dominating policy discussions, a billionaire activating citizens who feel economically disenfranchised and a socialist seriously challenging the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

A brokered GOP presidential convention could be the perfect setting for a relief pitcher to trot in from the bullpen. Nobody has stronger credentials to become the party’s closer than Paul Ryan.

Congress Reaches $1 Trillion Spending, Tax Deal

New House Speaker Paul Ryan turned a "crap sandwich" into a $1.1 trillion spending and tax deal that both Republicans and Democrats can point to with provisions they support.

New House Speaker Paul Ryan turned a "crap sandwich" into a $1.1 trillion spending and tax deal that both Republicans and Democrats can point to with provisions they support.

Congressional negotiators have reached an agreement on a $1.15 trillion federal spending bill that will carry through until Sept. 30, 2016. Most of the contentious policy "riders" were dropped in the final package.

The House is expected to vote Friday on the 2,009-page measure. Senate action will follow. Because the short-term spending extension expires tonight, Congress is expected to rush through another extension until Dec. 22 to allow time for the in the House and Senate on the omnibus package, which consists of 12 appropriations bills.

The deal also involves a 233-page bill that extends various tax provisions, including a five-year extension of tax credits for the wind and solar industries and a two-year delay of the so-called "Cadillac" tax on health insurance plans. The measure locks the research and development credit and Section 179 small business expensing deduction into law.

Reaching a spending agreement was a heavy lift for new House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called the job a "crap sandwich."

To reach a deal, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were forced to drop provisions Democrats opposed to defund Planned Parenthood, block funding for the 10,000 Syrian refugees that President Obama has agreed to accept, blunt an Obama administration clean water rule and peel back portions of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation.

Ryan and McConnell hope to attract as many Republican votes as possible through tax extenders, an end to a 40-year ban on U.S. oil exports and a reformed visa waiver program that no longer will apply to anyone who has travelled to Iraq or Syria. The omnibus package also stops what GOP critics call an Obamacare "bailout" of health insurers.

Democrats mostly played defense on the spending bill, but achieved policy goals on the tax measure, including expansion of the child, earned income college tuition tax credits. The measure also indefinitely extends state and local sales tax deductions and a deduction for teachers' out-of-pocket expenses. New York Senator Charles Schumer successfully inserted a provision to provide a tax benefit to mass transit riders that parallels an existing exclusion for employer-paid parking.

Provisions of particular interest to CFM clients include the following:

•  CDBG: $3 billion (equal to FY15 enacted level)

•  HOME: $950 million ($50 million increase over FY15 enacted levels)

•  Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants: $347 million (slight increase over FY15 enacted levels)

•  Economic Development Administration, Public Works Programs: $100 million (increase over FY15 enacted levels)

•  FEMA Assistance to Firefighter Grants: $690 million — $345 million for AFG and $345 for SAFER (increase over FY15 enacted levels)

•  TIGER: $500 million (equal to FY15 enacted level), although the bill does not provide funds for planning grants. 

While the omnibus spending and tax extender bills are expected to pass, most likely with bipartisan support, there is sure to be sniping about items buried in the bowels of the mammoth legislation, especially given the little amount of time Members of Congress will have before votes begin.

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.

Murray Builds on Her Pragmatic Reputation

Senator Patty Murray of Washington added another feather to her political cap by negotiating a budget deal with House Republicans that should prevent more fiscal cliffs in the next two years.

Murray and her House counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan, unveiled the agreement this week. The House is scheduled to vote on it as early as today.

“We cheer for a different football team, clearly. We catch different fish. We have some differences on policy, but we agree our country needs some certainty," said Murray.

While the deal doesn't live up to expectations of a grand bargain, it has a bipartisan stamp and replaces some of the worst effects of budget sequestration with what Murray termed "smart cuts." The package also contains added revenue.

Tea Party conservatives are upset the deal increases spending by $63 billion, while Democrats are mad because the package doesn't extend unemployment benefits for people suffering long-term joblessness.

But both sides could take solace that the plan didn't touch sensitive political nerves – entitlement reform for Democrats, corporate tax loopholes for Republicans. And that, according to Murray and Ryan, was by design.

Northwest Given Key Role on New Budget Panel

One of the key provisions included in the debt limit and funding agreement signed last night was formation of a House-Senate Budget Conference Committee. The Pacific NW is well represented on the newly formed, 29-member committee with Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden(D-OR), Jeff Merkley(D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID).

The newly constituted committee is tasked with hammering out differences between the House and Senate FY14 spending levels. The House spending level is $90 billion lower than the Senate proposal.  The Committee is required to report on an agreement by December 13.  However, unlike the Supercommittee established in 2011, there is no penalty for failure. 

There is faint optimism that both sides can come together on a "baby" grand bargain to lift temporarily the sequestration spending caps by making cuts to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

As you could guess, optimism is subdued by a meager track record of agreement and the hyper-partisan climate in Washington.  However, both sides seem interested in raising the sequestration caps.  Democrats want to increase domestic spending levels and Republicans defense spending.  Both sides feel programs are being severely squeezed under the caps and thus there may be room for a small, short-term deal. 

Wyden Could Be a Tax Panel Kingpin

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden could find himself chairing the powerful Senate Finance Committee in the next Congress following if Democrats can hold on to control of the Senate in the 2014 elections.Oregon Senator Ron Wyden may be next in line to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which overseas taxation, trade and Medicare. The one hitch is that Democrats will have to fight to retain control of the Senate in the 2014 elections.

Wyden's potential ascension is due to the announcement today that current Chair Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, has decided not to seek reelection. Earlier, the ranking Democrat on the committee, West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, said he was retiring.

The bad news for Wyden is that it may be hard for Democrats to retain those two Senate seats and a few others in the 2014 mid-term elections when there isn't a presidential race to activate all Democratic constituencies.

Elected to the U.S. House in 1980, Wyden moved into his first major chairmanship this term by taking the gavel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It takes that long in seniority-based Congress to move to the front of the line.

For a small state like Oregon, having the chairmanship of one of the most powerful committees in Congress is a big deal. Former Senator Bob Packwood chaired Senate Finance in the early 1980s and engineered a major tax overhaul. At the same time, the late Senator Mark Hatfield chaired Senate Appropriations, which made the two Oregon senators among the hottest phone numbers in DC.

Cherry Blossoms and Compromise Bloom

Suddenly Congress is abloom with cherry blossoms and compromises on gun control and immigration reform, a vote to break a Senate filibuster and a presidential budget proposal that angered both Republicans and Democrats.

Granted most of the activity was in the Senate, which has stirred from paralysis in response to the 2012 election and fast-moving demographic changes that could reshape the nation's electoral map. Even Congressman Paul Ryan — the chief budget warrior in the GOP-controlled House — signaled the possibility of a deal with President Barack Obama, despite Speaker John Boehner calling it a plan for deficit spending forever.

The political fault lines haven't evaporated, but leading Republicans are eager to seize the moment to repair tattered relations with minority voters, who vote heavily Democratic, and suburban voters, who are emerging as the key swing votes in many states. Both constituencies balk at some of the more extreme GOP positions.

GOP ballot box failures with African-American and Latino voters were highlighted in Obama's victory last fall. But more important are signs that more bedrock red states such as Texas and Arizona are seeing a marked shift toward the political middle or beyond. That has led to a new political pliancy by the likes of Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on immigration.

A Congress Going in Political Circles

Congressional Republicans have sniped that President Obama is still on the campaign trail after winning re-election last fall. But they are staging their own political theater on the House and Senate floors in offering up budgets that state their principles, but will never be enacted.

Democrats, of course, are doing the same thing, only it takes a lot longer to produce a non-result in the Senate. The GOP-controlled House, after slapping down a Democratic-principle budget, passed its Republican-principle budget and left town. The Senate is still at it, doing the same thing with the same outcome. Eventually it will leave town, too.

All the budget talk is really script-writing for the 2014 congressional elections. Democrats talk about the need to invest to grow the economy. Republicans say reduced spending and a balanced budget will foster economic growth.

Yet some observers take heart that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is the size of a penlight. Buried in all the budget principles of both parties is procedural language that will allow the Senate eventually to vote on a compromise budget without being held hostage to filibuster threats. This wouldn't hearten most people, but in Washington, DC these day's this is what passes for a hopeful sign. After all, in previous years Senate Democrats didn't even bother to produce a budget.

Rhetoric Aside, Both Sides Favor Medicare Limit

Despite fierce campaign rhetoric, one business commentator says President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney largely agree Medicare needs to go on a spending diet.Medicare has emerged as a defining issue in this year's presidential campaign, but one iconoclastic commentator says President Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney actually agree more than they disagree on what to do.

Matthew Yglesias, who covers business and economics for Slate, says despite fiery campaign rhetoric, both sides have committed to putting Medicare "on a diet." How they would shrink Medicare spending differs, Yglesias says, but that difference pales in comparison to their agreement on imposing a finite spending limit on one of America's most popular entitlement programs, which expands as medical costs rise.

Romney and his new running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, have ignited a fierce political debate over Medicare because of Ryan's congressional budget proposal to privatize Medicare by giving senior citizens medical vouchers. The amount of those vouchers, Yglesias says, would be limited by a cap on Medicare spending growth equal to annual GDP growth rate plus 0.5 percent.

Obama has blasted the Ryan voucher plan, predicting it would "end Medicare as we know it." However, Yglesias says Obama in his 2013 budget proposal also seeks to limit growth in Medicare spending, using the same formula as Ryan.

Wyden Walks Medicare Policy Tight Rope

His Medicare reform white paper co-authored with GOP presidential running mate Paul Ryan has Democratic Oregon Senator Ron Wyden in the political crosshairs of just about everybody.Democratic Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who isn't even on the ballot this fall, nevertheless finds himself in the middle of a hard-fought, negative presidential campaign. And he isn't happy about it.

Wyden co-authored a provocative white paper on Medicare reform options earlier this year along with House Budget Chair and now GOP presidential running mate Paul Ryan. The Mitt Romney-Ryan campaign seized on the white paper — and Wyden — as evidence of bipartisan support for their approach to Medicare reform.

Wyden has gone to great pains, including a speech this week to the Portland Rotary, to say ‘no dice.’

Defending the white paper and his collaboration with Ryan, Wyden says what Romney has endorsed and House Republicans have passed is not consistent with the white paper's approach to "preserve the Medicare guarantee."

In an interview with Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, Wyden said the major differences between his views and those of Romney involve the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Romney and Ryan favor repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Wyden doesn't. The Ryan-inspired House budget would give states more freedom to run their Medicaid programs for low-income citizens, but also provide less money. Wyden says that will harm lower-income seniors who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Paul Ryan and the Wikipedia War

Paul Ryan's selection as Mitt Romney's running mate ignited a war on Wikipedia over whether it was relevant to note his high school voted him as the biggest brown noser. Photo by Gage Skidmore.The selection over the weekend of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's Republican running mate  touched off a wave of pro and con commentary. None was more pitched than a series of edits and counter-edits to Paul Ryan's Wikipedia page.

The focus of the Wikipedia Wars quickly zeroed in on a 1988 reference in Ryan's high school yearbook that listed him as the "Biggest Brown-Noser."

Ryan sympathizers swept in to scrub the reference as irrelevant, but the vigilant opposition countered and put back the brown-nose reference, declaring it was relevant. The battle waged on with hundreds of revisions, including mention that Ryan was prom king his senior year.

Actually, a spate of Wikipedia edits in a politician's profile has now become a semi-official perch to judge whether a vice presidential candidate's stock is rising or falling. 

Writing for The Atlantic, Megan Garber said reporters staked out the various Wikipedia pages of leading vice presidential candidates to see which one had the most editorial activity, a clue to who might get the nod. She noted that short-listers Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Ryan each had about the same amount of pre-announcement editing.

This was in sharp contrast, Garber said, to 2008 when Sarah Palin's Wikipedia page was edited 68 times the day before John McCain's surprise announcement of her as his running mate.

Political mischief-maker Stephen Colbert, perhaps miffed because he wasn't on anyone's short list, openly encouraged people to "go on Wikipedia and make as many edits as possible to your favorite VP contender." Wikipedia locked down the pages of the short-listers, which sucked the air out of Colbert's party.

Two Nerds, One Big Idea

Republican Paul Ryan (left) and Democrat Ron Wyden ignited a political firestorm in Democratic circles by jointly proposing a Medicare reform plan with private-sector involvement.Compromise and election-year messaging are often lightning bolts streaking in opposite directions. Congressional Republicans, intent on uprooting President Obama from the White House, have felt the tension. And so has Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who teamed with House Budget Chair Paul Ryan on an improbable proposal to reform Medicare.

Congressional Republicans buckled to election pressures as they agreed to a compromise last week to extend a payroll tax cut, continue jobless benefits and block a Medicare fee cut to doctors.

But Wyden has no reason to buckle. A Democrat, he was re-elected comfortably in 2010 and remains one of Oregon's most popular political figures, in part because he is willing to work across the political aisle. Seeking bipartisan solutions on controversial issues is viewed today as the act of a political maverick in much the same way as Senators Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield opposing the Vietnam War.

The Potomac Watch column in the Wall Street Journal ran a piece describing what it called the Democratic establishment's "War on Wyden” for his Medicare collaboration with Ryan. It noted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called Wyden a "useful idiot" to Mitt Romney's presidential election bid. House Democrats, according to WSJ, "hissed the plan would end Medicare as we know it." And a former Senate staffer complained Wyden undercut a key argument for Democrats regaining control of Congress.