Can Paul Ryan Defeat the ‘Pyramid of Power’ in Congress?
Policy + Politics

Can Paul Ryan Defeat the ‘Pyramid of Power’ in Congress?

© Gary Cameron / Reuters

John Boehner handed the House speaker’s gavel to Paul Ryan on Thursday, ending a period of intraparty strife that threatened to render the federal government inert and permanently divide the GOP.

In his acceptance speech, Ryan, 45, addressed the concerns of GOP lawmakers seated in the House chamber, especially those on the far right, and Republicans throughout the country who are worried that their party can’t govern.

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“The House is broken. We’re not solving problems, we’re adding to them. And I’m not interested in laying blame. We're not settling scores, we’re wiping the slate clean,” Ryan said after he garnered an impressive 236 votes out of 247 Republican members in a floor election.

In a bid to appease hardline conservatives, including the roughly 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee from Wisconsin devoted a good portion of his remarks to how he plans to change how the chamber operates, calling for a return to “regular order.”

“I come at this job as a two-time committee chair,” said Ryan, who previously led the House Budget and Ways and Means committees. “The committees should retake the lead in drafting legislation.”

It remains to be seen how long the honeymoon between Freedom Caucus members – who supported Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) during the nomination process for speaker but overwhelming voted for Ryan on the House floor – and the new speaker will last.

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Speaking to reporters after the vote, Webster said he’d spoken to Ryan a few times in recent days to talk about how to unify a rowdy GOP conference.

“He wants me to help him do that, if that’d be the case, then I would try to help him,” said Webster, who received nine votes for speaker.

Webster urged Ryan to start repairing rifts immediately, saying that the new speaker should work to reduce the “pyramid of power” in Congress by empowering rank and file members

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), chair of the House Tea Party Caucus, said Ryan promised to come up with “new decentralization rules by Thanksgiving” and to “abide by the new 'Ryan Rule' requiring a majority of the Republican majority to move major issues to the floor,” among other things.

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“Now Paul Ryan has 14 months to prove he can be a Speaker for the future, not of the past,” he said in a statement.

As for Ryan himself, he will likely lean on a small cadre of advisers and colleagues, including House Budget Committee chair Tom Price (R-GA) and Financial Services Committee chair Jeb Hensarling (R-X).

Ryan seemingly gave up his goal to reform the U.S. tax code as head of the Ways and Means panel, and he is sure to maintain ties with each of the three men looking to replace him at the top of the dais.

But even as he went out of his way to shake hands with Democrats before Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) handed him the gavel, some lawmakers didn’t want to give him any breathing room.

While Ryan was giving his acceptance speech, Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, issued a statement saying his first official act as speaker should be to disband the GOP select committees on Benghazi and Planned Parenthood.