He's got a group of Republicans who increasingly would rather not vote for any spending bill -- and especially one that doesn't defund Planned Parenthood, or President Obama's climate change initiatives, or the Syrian refugee program or Obamacare.
And he's got six legislative days pass a spending bill -- i.e. putting actual money behind the budget compromise his predecessor passed on his way out the door in October (with the help of mostly Democrats) -- to help keep the government open.
It's looking like he will have to work with Democrats to get that done as well.
Sound familiar? That's because, as we predicted, newly minted Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) is in the same no-win situation as his predecessor, John Boehner (R-Ohio), was. (And we all know how that turned out for Boehner.) Yet again, a GOP House speaker is basically faced with either shutting down the government or relying on Democrats.
Of course, Ryan has a few things going for him that Boehner didn't: For one, he's got that new-speaker smell, currently un-dented by any fender-benders with his caucus, who seem to be giving him the benefit of the doubt his first month on the job. Ryan got 236 Republican votes for him for speaker in October; Boehner got just 216 in his most recent reelection in January. As The Fix's Chris Cillizza points out, the vast majority of those no's-to-yes's came from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which essentially forced Boehner out.
Ryan and his team are also making the argument that this spending bill debate is going to be messy because they're cleaning up the loose ends from Boehner's time in office. The implied message: 'Hold your nose now, Republicans, and either vote for it or let Ryan ally himself with Democrats to get it passed. Then next year, under Ryan's leadership, things will be different.'
But will it? Next year, Ryan will still be working with between 20 and 45 lawmakers (depending on which estimate you believe) who make it their mission to oppose Republican leadership and pull it to the right. That's been good politics for them, and they have no reason to stop now.
What we have is a different person in the same Kobayashi Maru situation. Republicans have yet to work on the underlying dynamics that got their party into these struggles in the first place: a growing number of lawmakers who want the impossible to happen and won't settle for anything less. As Cillizza noted, the intransigence is egged on by the lifting of the earmark ban, the rise of outside groups and the country's increased polarization.
It doesn't seem like Ryan has an immediate plan to fix all of that. He and his leadership team appear to be focusing their efforts instead on the group of moderate Republicans they think are enabling conservatives by voting no along with them -- but quietly hoping the bills actually do pass.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) called out those folks in a letter to Republicans this week, urging the "vote no, hope yes" caucus to, well, stop voting "no."
"The vote that hurts our conference is the no vote from a member who hopes the bill passes, but relies on others to carry that load," he said in the letter, as reported by Politico. "That vote isn’t fair to the members who shoulder the responsibility of voting yes."
Ryan's workaround strategy right now might be his only option. The House Freedom Caucus has given him space to start his new job but not any legislative wiggle room when it comes to their demands. What have they got to lose, after all, but bragging rights back home -- and possibly dollars from outside groups that encourage such things -- for standing up to "the man" in Washington. Whether that "man" is Boehner or Ryan doesn't seem to change much.
Ryan, by contrast, has a lot to lose. Getting his spending bill passed on time is his first major test as speaker, and he's trying to do it while keeping the precarious goodwill of his party. Oh, and he'd like to keep his job, too.
It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation that, unfortunately for Ryan, appears to have no way out but through.