Just in time for Halloween, Congressman Paul Ryan has been awarded what might be the craziest trick-or-treat in political history.
Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who would have been vice president in a Mitt Romney administration, has secured himself the top job in the U.S. Congress — Speaker of the House. Barring a last-minute rebellion (always a possibility), he’ll be in the job by the weekend. All this despite a month of protestations that he did not want the gavel.
Before heading out to the golf course, Ryan’s predecessor, retiring Speaker John Boehner, did his best to clear the path. A surprise budget/debt ceiling deal this week between Boehner and the White House seems to have eliminated the largest stumbling blocks for Ryan between now and the 2016 election. Yet there remains numerous ghosts in the machine and plenty of scary options that should be of concern to members of both parties in Washington, D.C.
First, Ryan needed the support of both establishment Republicans and the roughly 40-strong Tea Party faction of the GOP caucus, which has — for the moment, at least — agreed to support Ryan’s speakership. But it is an uneasy marriage. All indications are that this support is contingent on Ryan continuing to appease his party’s right flank. That could prove difficult for a man with big ideas about overhauling the tax code and reforming entitlements. While Ryan tries to wear the outsider mask, his resume has “Washington insider” all over it. Meanwhile, the current Republican coalition is anything but stable, reminiscent more of factionalized coalitions that govern parliamentary systems than the standard American system.
But a coalition government is dependent on all parties working together, despite their ideological differences. We are hard-pressed to see how this makeshift pact will work effectively, if at all, over the long haul. In fact, Ryan’s speakership appears more of a bet that a Republican president rides into the White House in January 2017, lessening the need for difficult compromises with the executive branch.
The two-year, bipartisan budget deal temporarily ends the continuous, stop-gap fixes and fights over defense and domestic spending, coupled with federal borrowing. It passed despite opposition from the chamber’s most conservative Republican members. The chamber’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, cited the measure as a championing of bipartisan efforts. But even her party is overly cautious as to what the new leadership will be able to achieve, since to a degree, Democrats are also part of the coalition. After all, Democrats have enjoyed increased leverage within the House of Representatives for the past several years, as Boehner was often unable to build a coalition within his own party to pass controversial legislation. Eventually, it cost the outgoing speaker his job. Is Ryan ready and willing to do the same?
Even U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has indicated his support for Ryan. In a recent Time magazine interview, the Democrat noted, “Despite our extensive ideological differences, I believe Congressman Ryan is the best Republican candidate for speaker because he is the only House Republican with the political capital, stature and ability to forge compromise necessary to restore a basic modicum of order, and work with Democrats to avoid default and avoid another shutdown.” Sure… until he tries to do just that.
So, as we approach Halloween, let’s hope that Speaker Ryan finds his trick-or-treat bag full of political candy, not the agony of a cold rock or two. If he does manage to grab a few tricks along with way, we recommend that he keeps them up his sleeve. He is very likely to need them.