- Ways and Means chairman won backing of three key party groups
- Leadership turmoil weighs on Congress as fiscal deadlines near
Representative Paul Ryan declared that he will serve as U.S. House speaker to quell the turmoil that has left Congress’s Republican majority without a fiscal strategy just 13 days before the country could default on its debt.
A full House vote on Oct. 29 is now essentially a formality. Ryan had said he would only enter the speaker’s race if he could lock up support from three wings of the fractious party, and in the space of 72 hours this week, he did. He is heeding the pleas of fellow Republicans who want him to unite the party after hard-liners drove Speaker John Boehner to resign.
“I am ready and eager to be our speaker,” Ryan said in a letter to colleagues Thursday night. “We can show the country what a commonsense conservative agenda looks like.”
Ryan is one of the Republican Party’s most recognizable figures after his failed 2012 vice presidential bid, and at 45, he stands to shape the party’s message and vision for years to come. He took a circuitous route toward the speaker’s chair, telling the party not once but twice that he wouldn’t run but emerging after a week at home in Wisconsin to say he’d take the job, with conditions.
He wants to preserve time at home with his three children by avoiding much of the endless fundraising of past speakers. He also asked Republicans to make it harder to remove him from the job.
“Paul Ryan has my full support for speaker,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, said in a statement. “He is a man of action and a conservative that can unite our caucus.”
Ryan will give up his post as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Even so, he said he’ll try to steer the party’s fiscal policies from the top job in the chamber.
House Republicans have been in chaos over the speaker’s position -- second in line to succeed the president -- as Congress nears the Nov. 3 deadline to raise the U.S. debt limit or risk default.
Ryan is viewed by many as a unifying force after negotiating a two-year budget deal with Democrats in 2013. Boehner implored him to run for speaker, as did Mitt Romney, who chose Ryan as his vice presidential nominee in 2012. Before taking over Ways and Means, he served as chairman of the Budget Committee.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said earlier Thursday, “The president believes that Congressman Ryan is someone who has given considerable thought” to major issues.
Noting that Ryan has been working to unite the Republican caucus, Schultz added, “We hope that’s not a precursor of someone who wants to govern on a strictly partisan basis” because that has failed in the past.
Ryan told fellow Republicans earlier this week he would run only if they united behind him and agreed to restrict members’ ability to oust the speaker. Members of the hard-line Freedom Caucus threatened to use that procedure against Boehner, and he decided to resign rather than fight it.
Many of the three dozen Freedom Caucus members have said Ryan is too willing to compromise, but ultimately the group provided its support in a two-thirds vote that fell short of a formal endorsement. The group didn’t back his proposal to make it harder to remove the speaker.
Ryan also won the backing of the Republican Study Committee of about 170 conservatives and the centrist Tuesday Group, which includes about 50 lawmakers. Ryan met with all three groups, some of whose memberships overlap.
“He has the policy expertise, conservative principles and strong values we need in our next speaker,” RSC Chairman Bill Flores of Texas said in a statement.
In the debate over increasing the federal debt limit, Republicans want the legislation to include policy language intended to cut government spending, while Democrats and President Barack Obama say the measure must be free of extraneous provisions.
The urgency of acting to raise the debt limit was highlighted by the Treasury Department’s decision Thursday to postpone an auction of two-year notes previously scheduled for early next week. The Treasury said that “due to debt ceiling constraints, there is a risk that Treasury would not be able to settle the two-year note” on Nov. 2.
Besides the debt ceiling, lawmakers also need to replenish the federal highway fund by Oct. 29. Then they must resolve disputes over federal spending by Dec. 11 or risk a government shutdown, something Boehner couldn’t head off in 2013.
Boehner of Ohio announced Sept. 25 that he would leave Congress by the end of October following years of clashes with conservatives who most recently threatened to shut down the government in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
A number of Republicans began pressuring Ryan to seek the job after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Oct. 8 withdrawal from the race to succeed Boehner. Ryan resisted the idea and said this week he didn’t want to spend weekends away from his family.
Known to be interested in running for president, Ryan has spurned past attempts to lure him to the speakership because it’s viewed as a political dead end. James K. Polk is the only House speaker ever to ascend to the presidency, and that was 170 years ago.
While House Democrats stayed out of the Republican leadership battle, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters, “It’s a good thing to have certainty of electing a speaker.” She said Ryan is a lawmaker who “knows the territory, who knows the issues; that’s helpful.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Thursday that Ryan is the only House Republican “with real potential to impose a basic modicum of order.” He added, “We need someone to deal with” as the debt limit deadline approaches.
As Budget Committee chairman, Ryan proposed repealing Obamacare, cutting business tax rates, ending the estate tax and consolidating programs for low-income households. He also sought to overhaul Medicare by giving future recipients a fixed amount of money to either buy private insurance or use in Medicare. Democrats say his plans would shred the social safety net.
He also has supported allowing 11 million undocumented immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, a stance backed by most Democrats but strongly opposed by most House Republicans.
Ryan told fellow Republicans on Tuesday that he wouldn’t bring a comprehensive immigration bill to the floor while Obama is in office because the matter would be too divisive, said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. Democrats who support an immigration overhaul, which passed the Senate in a 2013 bipartisan vote, contend it would have enough votes from both parties to pass the House if it were allowed to come to the floor.