Well that was fast.
On the first full day of the new session of Congress, a group of influential conservative lawmakers signaled to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) that the heady days that closed out 2015 are over.
"I think it is fundamentally unfair to try and judge the speakership of Paul Ryan over the last month or so. But, as I have also said, the honeymoon is over," Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, said during a Capitol Hill press conference.
Ryan, who became Speaker in September, “[must ] start putting up real conservative reform in the House and doing the things that are necessary to show the voters that he is a different speaker than John Boehner because frankly, everything he has done so far is no different than what John Boehner would have done,” he added.
That statement could be considered a threat in some Capitol Hill circles, since Boehner’s clashes with the Freedom Caucus helped drive him from office, but Labrador was quick to temper his comments.
"I do think he has a year to make that up and I think we all want to give him that opportunity to make that up,” he said.
Just weeks into his speakership, Ryan helped push a wave of legislation through the House, including a budget deal to fund the government for the next two years, the framework of which was negotiated by Boehner.
Many hardliners were ultimately disappointed with the nitty-gritty details of the agreement, arguing it didn’t contain enough conservative provisions on issues like funding for Planned Parenthood or Syrian refugees. However, the far right still gave Ryan a pass, believing he made the best of a bad situation.
But comments by Labrador and others indicate all bets are off in 2016. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has likewise begun to complain about Ryan’s job performance, calling the budget deal “stupid.”
The Wisconsin Republican is mindful of unrest on his right flank, though, and slated the first day of the new congressional session for a vote on legislation to repeal Obamacare.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said the only “yardstick” that should be applied to Ryan is if lawmakers fund the government in a “responsible, thoughtful and constitutional manner.”
“If we are here in January of next year or December of next year having just passed an omnibus or looking at an omnibus that is an F-,” he said. “If we pass 12 appropriations bills and stand our ground and force the Senate to face these issues, that’s an A. And there you have it.”
The comments come as House and Senate GOP lawmakers prepare to hold their annual retreat in Baltimore next week. The joint pow-wow, only the second of its kind, will allow members to brainstorm ideas and chat about the agenda for 2016.
House Freedom Caucus chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that he would like to see “tax reform legislation that we vote on, not just talk about,” as well as overhauls to the country’s welfare and healthcare systems.
“Not just talk about them but pass legislation and say, ‘Here’s what we’re for.’”
Labrador said, “The question is, will Ryan just be a good speech maker or a good policy maker? So far he’s shown that he’s a great speech maker.”
“The question is not just can you deliver on the speech but can you deliver on the substance. The question is whether the Republican Party is a conservative party or not. I'm afraid that so far we've shown that we’re not a conservative party,” he told the audience.
Labrador actually credited House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who lost the speaker’s gavel in 2010, for implementing policies, like President Obama’s signature healthcare law.
“That’s what a leader of your party does. She knew how to do it. I haven’t seen a republican leader know how to do it on our side,” he said.
The GOP must decide whether it wants to be a “transformational party” or “just a little bit better than the Democratic Party,” Labrador added.
“That’s not what I signed up to do.”