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October 23, 2015

So, Paul Ryan Is Going To Be The Next Speaker Of The House

Having decided that his ring has been sufficiently kissed, Paul Ryan officially announced he will accept the position of Speaker of the House.

As is often the case in politics, everyone will find something they can hang their hat on to claim victory. For conservatives of the Freedom Caucus variety the fig leaf is a promise to open the legislative process to input from individual legislators. That was always the main goal of the Caucus, not necessarily a more conservative Speaker (Daniel Webster, the official choice of the group supports amnesty too).

So what would this new open process, "regular order", look like?

What currently happens is that leadership and its fellow actors – including committee chairs and industry lobbyists – decide where a bill ought to be on the ideological scale. More hardline conservative members think it needs to be much better, but leadership insists no, they know where the votes are, and the votes aren’t there for something better. Conservatives say: we disagree, let us bring an amendment forward on the floor to make it better, vote on this, and if it fails, then we’ll talk about your measure. Leadership then blocks that amendment – not because it can’t pass, but because they know it will. Leadership insists: it’s our deal, or nothing. Conservatives say: we’re fine with nothing. Leadership says: we don’t need you anyway, we’ve got the votes. So they schedule a vote, discover they don’t have the votes after all, and have to pull the bill.


But there’s another way. What if, instead, leadership told the committee chairman, have your committee write the bill and we’ll bring it to the floor under an open rule. They craft a marginally conservative bill. On the floor, conservatives will offer amendments to the bill, and a lot of them will pass, making the bill more conservative. And Democrats and moderate Republicans will also team up on amendments that pull the bill in the opposite direction. You will end up with something that is a mixed bag of measures, with some that tug it one way, others that tug it the other. The only person angry about that process is a committee chair.

That’s a scenario where the bill will likely ultimately pass. But let’s consider a different one – say a committee reports a marginally conservative bill and the chairman says: this is as good as we’re going to get. Conservatives demand an open amendment process, and it turns out the chair was right. Moderates and Democrats who may have felt obliged to vote for a marginally conservative measure amend it down to a marginally liberal one, and the bill either dies or passes with a bipartisan coalition. Again, who is angered by this process? The votes were transparent, and if moderates were out of line, primary voters are better than leadership at imposing discipline anyway. Conservatives would be happier with such a process, but so would others.

Here's the thing, every Speaker comes in and promises to "open the process" and "let members actually legislate". Then realty hits and leadership realizes they have to make the trains run, make sure the right people are happy with a rigged outcome and decide that as hard as it is to herd the cats by force it's better than let them run around on their own.

In the end the reality is that the House is designed to be representative of the people (the whole 2 year term thing) but also to produce results.

We've seen it before, the House passes something (think a debt ceiling hike with conditions). The Senate scoffs, passes a clean one (maybe they add McConnell's "motion of disapproval" charade which ensures it goes up while the Senate pretends to oppose it) and then the House it jammed with it.

Basically, even if Ryan wanted to open the process (pass individual appropriation bills), the Senate will simply refuse to play along.

The question then isn't simply will Ryan stand up to Democrats for conservatives but will he stand up for the House against McConnell's Senate? The charitable answer is, let's find out. The less charitable one is, of course not.

As for Ryan's personal policy proclivities....he's a self-described Jack Kemp acolyte. That basically means he was a compassionate conservative before George W. Bush coined the term.

Why did Ryan support things like Medicare Part D and TARP?

"You don't get to take the vote you want in Congress," Ryan lamented to me. "Sometimes you have to take votes that you don't want to take, but they're the best of the two choices."

Bush, he said, notified him that if the House version of the Medicare drug bill didn't pass, the administration would have pushed the Senate bill, which did not include free market provisions such as health savings accounts. "That was the choice he gave us," he says. "It was not a choice I liked."

Other options, like saying no to bad choices, didn't seem to occur to him.

There was a time when the Kemp/Ryan model of conservatism was a radical departure and the best option. But that was several million illegal aliens and several trillion dollars in debt ago.

Compassionate Conservatism was a disaster for the GOP after Bush but the forces of heroic government never go away, they just rebrand. A Ryan Speakership carrying the water for a President Rubio would be a disaster for small government conservatives. A Ryan Speakership and a Cruz presidency would be an interesting battle for the soul of the GOP.

Either way in the end when the dust settles, Paul Ryan won't be much different from John Boehner. It's just the nature of the beast.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:06 AM

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