John A. Boehner told everyone that he was going to “clean out the barn” for new House speaker Paul D. Ryan. Boehner’s parting gift to his successor was a promise to clear the decks of all the tough issues.
But he could not pull that off completely while also passing a sweeping budget deal, so as Boehner (R-Ohio) exits, he leaves behind several key issues that will test Ryan’s leadership style and determine whether the Wisconsin Republican will have any more success in wrangling the GOP caucus than Boehner did.
By Nov. 20, Congress must act on the expiring authority for the federal highway program, an issue that also could lead to another flare-up of the expiration of the Export-Import Bank’s authority to issue new loan guarantees. After that comes the Dec. 11 deadline for filling in all of the agency-by-
agency details of spending plans, a process that was made easier because this week’s budget framework resolved the larger fight over the top-line dollar figure but defers intricate fights over funding levels for hot-button issues.
So, while the nameplates outside the speaker’s office formally flipped Friday morning, many of the same fights that led the most conservative faction to cause trouble for the old speaker remain in place for the new one.
“I think there’s a chance that part of the government will be shut down if Ryan can’t control these 50 or 60 people,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of his party’s leadership, said in an interview.
To be sure, the most dangerous showdowns have been largely neutralized for the next two years, averting the sort of fiscal brinkmanship that helped cause a financial market drop in the summer of 2011 over fears of default and then the 16-day shutdown of the federal government in 2013.
This week’s budget framework suspended the limit on the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority until March 15, 2017, after which the next administration’s financial experts will be able to use book-
balancing moves that would probably put off any showdown on the debt ceiling until the fall of 2017.
The deal, which won final approval after 3 a.m. Friday in the Senate, also set for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 the combined spending limits for federal agencies, providing $80 billion in relief for the military and non-defense agencies. With that top-line figure set, the likelihood of another shutdown is most likely averted.
For now, Ryan is focusing on “redesigning” the way the House works, as he put it in a Friday interview with his home-state media. “I don’t think this job would work if you just picked up where John Boehner left off,” he said, noting the many clashes the former speaker had with elements of the GOP conference.
That is encouraging to the House Freedom Caucus, the lead antagonists to Boehner who pushed Ryan to endorse internal rules changes. The question is whether this group of roughly 40 hard-line conservatives is ready to extend a period of goodwill on the issues immediately in front of Ryan so that the focus can remain on internal changes rather than ideological clashes.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close friend and now top lieutenant of Ryan’s, argued after Ryan’s swearing-in that there would be a honeymoon period that would allow the immediate issues to be resolved.
The generational shift — Boehner is 65, Ryan is 45 — is important in building trust with a group of House Republicans who largely come from Ryan’s generation and have not spent much time in Washington.
“Paul and I have worked together as a team,” McCarthy said. “We traveled, we recruited, did that. There is a bond and a friendship there that makes me excited about going to work.”
Democrats, however, are issuing warnings that they will not accept any controversial policy riders on the catch-all spending bill. Democrats say the fights ahead could resemble the showdown earlier this year when the rest of the federal government was fully funded for the year but there was a near-shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
That battle centered on the Republican effort to defund Obama’s immigration actions.
Complicating the negotiations ahead is that the overall funding level has been set and codified into law. In past budget talks, the standard practice has been an exchange over funding levels and policy riders — if Republicans demanded a rider, they would have to give in for more funding priorities for Democrats.
That matter has largely been resolved, though some horse trading can happen within certain agency budgets. So one or two agencies may see their funding caught in a showdown similar to the one DHS faced in February.
“There’s a decent chance the government will shut down over one of these riders, but they’ll lose,” Schumer predicted.