House Speaker John Boehner was driven out of office early, in part, because of his damaging, and increasingly public, clashes with far-right conservatives – a fate the Ohio Republican’s heir-apparent is already working to avoid.
On Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), who resisted running for the speaker’s gavel until he had assurances of support from the various wings within the GOP conference, tossed red meat to hardliners to ease their concerns and demonstrate he will listen to them more than Boehner did.
For starters, Ryan criticized how the two-year, $112 billion budget deal that also raises the nation’s debt ceiling negotiated between congressional leaders and the White House was crafted and pledged things would be different when he’s speaker.
"If you want to ask me what I think about this process, I think this process stinks,” the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee told reporters, adding that he is “reserving judgment” about the fiscal package.
"Under new management we are not going to run the House this way,” he added.
"We should have been discussing this months ago as members so that we have a more coherent strategy. So in the future, we need a better process than the one that's working if we want to do the people's business that way,” according to Ryan.
That must have sounded like music to the ears of the roughly 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus. The group, which has demonstrated outsized influence among congressional Republicans, has long demanded a return to “regular order” in the chamber, arguing it would empower committee chairs and allow each member a greater say in the legislative sausage making.
Ryan met with members of the caucus last week and gave them general assurances that he would overhaul House rules some time the future; his comments signal he was serious about keeping that promise. Never mind that Boehner, the Freedom Caucus’ main antagonist, said the same thing about the budget process less than an hour later.
“Totally agree. Totally agree … It stinks,” Boehner said during a press conference on Capitol Hill, but noted that the alternative was a “clean” debt increase and flirting with another government shutdown in December. “And so when you look at the alternative, it starts to look a whole lot better. But I would hope that the process in the future would have a little more length to it and involve more members,” Boehner said.
The sweeping budget deal wasn’t the only time Ryan broke with Boehner.
In the afternoon he took to the House floor to rail against a GOP-led effort to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The New Deal-era agency’s charter expired in June thanks to House fiscal conservatives who argued the Ex-Im bank is the poster-child for “crony capitalism” that favors major corporations over small businesses.
Republicans used a rarely successful legislative maneuver to discharge a bill from the House Financial Services Committee, which, if passed by the full chamber would pave the way for the bank to reopen.
"I think there are plenty of other ways to expand opportunity in this country, and corporate welfare is not one of them. The biggest beneficiaries of this bank--two-thirds of their money go to 10 companies. Forty percent goes to one company,” Ryan said.
He argued that free enterprise is more about collaboration. “It's more about transactions of mutual benefit where everybody benefits, and the rising tide lifts all boats. Equality for all. Equal opportunity. That's free enterprise. That's small d, democratic capitalism. This thing is crony capitalism, and I urge it be rejected,” according to Ryan.
Though the measure is expected to pass with near-unanimous Democratic support, the speech could be an important marker in the ongoing saga over the bank’s revival. In the Senate, the agency’s fate likely will be tied to a must-pass highway funding measure.
If that bill passes, it would need to conference with the House version, which doesn’t include the Export-Import bank, giving Speaker Ryan another chance to prove his bona fides to conservatives.