Paul Ryan is unhappy at the way the bipartisan budget deal was constructed
"About the process I can say this: I think the process stinks. This is not the way to do the people's business, and under new management, we are not going to do the people's business this way."
Rep. Paul Ryan is expected to be elected as House speaker Thursday, but the bipartisan budget deal hashed out late Monday on Capitol Hill may be the best news he gets this week.
The deal gives Ryan two advantages as he prepares to try and control the unwieldy Republican caucus. First, it gets the high-stakes debt ceiling and budget talks off the table.
Perhaps more important, Ryan is deliberately distancing himself from the pact and criticizing outgoing Speaker John Boehner and GOP leaders for cutting the deal behind closed doors without input from his members. That gives him common cause with the right-wing lawmakers unhappy with Boehner’s leadership and what they see as weak deals made with Democrats.
“About the process I can say this: I think the process stinks,” Ryan told CNN on the way into a GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning.
“This is not the way to do the people’s business, and under new management, we are not going to do the people’s business this way,” he added. “We are up against a deadline. That’s unfortunate. But going forward, as a conference, we should have been meeting months ago to discuss these things, to have a unified strategy going forward.”
On Wednesday morning, just moments before he was scheduled to address his fellow Republicans at a speakers candidate forum, Ryan announced he would back the deal.
“What has been produced will go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us, and that’s why I intend to support it,” Ryan said in a statement.
There were potential ramifications in either direction. If Ryan had opposed the deal, it would have looked like a politically expedient move to cater to the right wing and a shot at Boehner on his way out the door.
Now that he backs it, he could be slashed by the right for owning a bad deal but he can say he is being responsible to take default off table.
His comments criticizing the process should appeal directly to members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, the group of 40 or so Republicans who consistently caused problems for Boehner and led to his decision to resign. They will likely oppose the deal, but the Wisconsin Republican needs to make sure they don’t take their disappointment out on him.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, a Freedom Caucus member, said the deal is “too far reaching and far too liberal for my taste,” but said Ryan is in the clear.
“He has said absolutely no - he’s had no role in it,” Meadows said of Ryan. “He’s condemned the process and this is indicative of what we are trying to change - an 11th hour deal, no matter how strategic it may be, is problematic when members have not had input.”
Meadows added of Ryan: “He has tried to make it clear that this is not the way that he would do business and has been very definitive on that so I take him at his word.”
Boehner cleans the barn
The deal would increase defense and domestic spending by $80 billion over two years, make changes to the Social Security disability fund and raise the national debt ceiling until March 2017 – taking off the table for Ryan the same fiscal fights that damaged Boehner’s speakership.
“I made it clear a month ago when I announced I was leaving that I wanted to do my best to clean the barn,” Boehner told reporters Tuesday. “I didn’t want him to walk into a dirty barn with you know what.”
Yet as Ryan is quick ensure his fingerprints aren’t on the deal, Boehner noted it’s modeled on a budget agreement Ryan negotiated in 2013, telling reporters, “you go back two years ago we had the Ryan Murray budget agreement which if you look at this, it isn’t a whole lot different than what he and Sen. Murray put together two years ago.”
Boehner said he wasn’t thrilled with the process either. “I’m in full agreement this is not the way to run a railroad,” he said.
“But remember the alternative,” the Ohio Republican added. “The alternative was a clean debt ceiling or default on our debt and also means we got to December 11th without facing another government shutdown so when you look at the alternative it starts to look a whole lot better.”
Boehner addressed the GOP conference in one of his last times as speaker Tuesday. GOP lawmakers gave the avid golfer a golf cart as a parting gift with the license plate: “Mr SPKR.”
Freedom Caucus skeptical of deal
For Freedom Caucus members, the deal is also one last reminder why they pushed for change at the top to begin with.
“There is plenty in there for folks not to like and this is exactly what John Boehner promised he wouldn’t do, which is negotiate solely with the President,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas.
“It’s a $1.5 trillion spending increase and in exchange for that they get $80 billion in more spending,” Huelskamp added. “So anybody who is a serious fiscal conservative cannot support this bill in my opinion.”
The return to so-called regular order and making committees more prominent has been a feature of the month-long speaker’s race, especially for Freedom Caucus members who opposed these kinds of last-minute deals.
This is a prime example, Huelskamp said, adding that it may come up Wednesday when the House GOP conference meets to formally approve its nominee for speaker – expected to be Ryan.
“I assume there will be some discussions about it,” he said. “There are all sorts of Social Security reforms in there. You would think that should go through a committee. I don’t think there have been any hearings.”
Rep. Tom Cole, a leadership backer, said the bill should pass, even if the Freedom Caucus bolts.
“There are really three groups in our conference. There are 40 to 60 Freedom Caucus guys who probably most of them will not support this. Fair enough, they have strong objections,” Cole said. “You’ve got 70-90 what I call ‘governing Republicans’ who are there almost every time the leadership needs to make a tough call. But we’ve got a comparable sized group, 70 to 90 who sort of vote no and hope yes,” he added. “And that caucus needs to step up. John Boehner deserves majority support on the last deal of a distinguished career and frankly, I would argue that Paul Ryan needs that kind of support moving forward.”