Capitol Hill: Ryan Run

Published on October 9, 2015

There are indications this morning that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will soon give into the enormous political party pressures and announce he will indeed run in a rescheduled election as the Republican Party’s nominee to be the next Speaker of the House. Ryan has for now, only said he will use the weekend to think it through.

If Ryan should say no, an alternative name being circulated today is John Kline of Minnesota. A centrist from a blue state, Kline is a relative unknown but he is drawing considerable support from the mainstream party members, even if he is unlikely to draw high praise from the dissident right.

But the betting is on the high odds that Ryan‘s answer to the party will be a “yes we can!” Ryan would be likely to easily win 218 votes if not nearer the full 246 votes of eligible House Republican conference members (current Speaker John Boehner does not vote as he is resigning). It should rapidly bring to a close the disarray within the House Republican ranks, at least for now

*** The single most important outcome if Ryan does indeed step up as we expect is if it helps to clear the path for a resumption of the five-way negotiations between the Capitol Hill leadership of both parties and President Obama to clinch a two year budget agreement that is intended to include an increase in the debt ceiling. The risks attached to another shutdown or serious headline shocks around debt ceiling negotiations into the middle of November will rise significantly if Boehner leaves office for whatever reason without clinching the deal or at minimum substantial movement on the deal. ***

Boehner’s “Barn Cleaning”

The biggest winner in the Ryan decision to run would probably be Speaker Boehner. Boehner will then be free to go back to his promised “barn cleaning” to clear a stack of tough to pass bills (all of which will need Democratic votes) before the new Speaker steps in to fill his shoes.

The unfinished chores include the appropriations for Fiscal Year 2016 that are being blocked by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Reid is seeking higher levels of domestic spending to match the boost to defense spending the GOP wants by going off budget for the funding. They also include long term federal funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which is stalled due to unresolved differences between Republicans in the Senate and Ryan in the House, as well as finally, of course, the need to raise the federal debt limit sometime in early to mid-November.

All four of these bills could be easily passed with Democratic votes, but that would re-open deep wounds within the GOP, and the House GOP Conference in particular. And each of these issues ignites the shutdown passions of the Freedom Caucus, the same dissident group of House Republican dissidents who caused Boehner to quit, who caused McCarthy to quit, and is causingRyan to resist.

We are not sure how it is all going to play or work out, but Boehner will now be focusing his energies and staff over the next three weeks or more on the high stakes, five way negotiations with President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Reid to pull off something of a “mini Grand Bargain” on a two year budget agreement that is likely to include an increase in the debt ceiling.

Hard Right Resistance to Ryan

The scramble by Boehner and McConnell to cut a deal on the two year framework – and their need to salvage a degree of unity within the Republican ranks is not lost on a master negotiator like Reid – is driven in large part by the painful awareness that failure to make at least substantial progress would put a new Speaker, Ryan or anyone else in that political hot seat, into an almost impossible position from the start.

And indeed, underscoring that risk, Ryan is already drawing harsh criticism from the hard right. Red State, one of the more aggressive media outlets that have all been so instrumental in whipping up confrontational tactics of the dissident factions within the Republican House, has already questioned Ryan‘s suitability in the Speaker’s position for his role in “bail-outs” and the willingness to compromise with Democrats.

The alternative candidate who seems to be picking up some momentum throughout the day is John Kline of Minnesota. Kline was elected to office in 2002, has been a consistent Boehner ally, and currently chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. A centrist from a blue state, Kline is a pragmatist who has honed the skills to satisfy or least mollify the harsher demands of the conservatives on his committee.

Kline is relatively unknown outside the GOP House conference, however, and he will not attract as broad a support as Ryan. And he most certainly won’t win any points with the Freedom Caucus. But on the other hand, not being well known may be an advantage, in that at least in the short term, it will be hard demonize an unknown.

McCarthy Likely to Resign

In other news from the Hill, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who dramatically withdrew his name yesterday minutes before the scheduled GOP secret balloting began, is expected to soon resign from Congress altogether, along with a fellow representative with whom he is rumored to have had an affair.

That will keep the scramble between Majority Whip Steven Scalise and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price going through the rest of the month until October 30, when the House GOP will vote on the rest of its party leadership when the full House will be voting for the new Speaker.  There is no word yet whether the Freedom Caucus will put up one of its own members, perhaps even its co-chair Jim Jordan or Daniel Webster as a candidate for one of the three remaining senior leadership positions.

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