The Top Five Policy Challenges Facing the Next House Speaker
Policy + Politics

The Top Five Policy Challenges Facing the Next House Speaker

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

Just because Speaker John Boehner announced he’s resigning at the end of October doesn’t mean the House will get a long overdue renovation. The House will still have the same unruly tenants and the problems that go with them.

The Ohio Republican spent almost as much time during his five-year reign sparring with the hardline members of his own conference as he did with the Obama administration. It was the ongoing intra-party warfare – this time over federal funding for Planned Parenthood that threatens to shut down the government – that pushed Boehner to step down rather than face a revolt that could remove him from the speaker’s chair.  

Related: After Boehner, Who Will Be the Next Speaker?

During a Capitol Hill press conference on Friday, Boehner stressed his decision wasn’t because
he “had enough” of fighting his colleagues but one look at the calendar shows a number of politically bruising fights awaited the veteran lawmaker. His response to any one -- or all -- of them might have been enough to trigger a coup.

Now a lame duck, Boehner pledged he wasn’t “going to sit around here and do nothing for the next 30 days. There's a lot of work that needs to be done. I plan on getting it as much of it done as I can before I exit.”

But with little time left on the clock, most of the outstanding issues before Congress are likely to linger on after he’s gone.

Here are the top five challenges that could await Boehner’s replacement.

Funding the Government
This week, enough House Democrats are expected to join GOP members in voting for a short-term funding bill to prevent a government shutdown. Lawmakers have until October 1 to approve legislation and get it to Obama’s desk for his signature and the lower chamber is expected to use almost every minute available and pass the measure some time Wednesday.

Related: Boehner Resignation Increases the Prospects for a Government Shutdown

In the past, such a bipartisan vote would have enraged conservatives, but with Boehner on his way out the door, they could be mollified and not seek any reprisals.

The next immediate challenge will be to come up with a spending bill that funds the government for most, if not all, of fiscal 2016. Given how long it took Congress to get working on a stopgap bill, wrangling over a long-term bill could drag on for weeks or months, especially since funding for Planned Parenthood will remain a top priority for the far right.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the presumptive favorite to replace Boehner, would likely be involved in such discussions, but once the Ohio incumbent is out the door, whoever gets the gavel will become the face of the House GOP.

Increase the Debt Ceiling
The nation’s debt limit will need to be increased sometime in November or December. The Treasury Department said the government recently hit that $18.1 trillion limit, and the agency is carrying out a series of financial tricks to stave off a default. Still, the gimmicks won’t hold much longer.

Related: As Government Hits Debt Ceiling, Treasury Taps Federal Pensions

Debt ceiling fights proved particularly frustrating for Boehner, who tangled with conservatives over it in 2011 and 2014. Any new GOP leader likely will study both episodes to try to figure out if there is any way to get an increase without ticking off the right flank just weeks into his or her tenure. As a reminder, raising the debt ceiling is simply paying the bills—meaning paying for mandatory and discretionary spending obligations already incurred.

Highway Funding Extension
The authorization for the Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund is set to expire October 29, the day before Boehner is set to leave Congress.

Before adjourning for August recess, the Senate approved a six-year renewal for the program that uses revenue generated by the federal gasoline tax to pay for a major portion of its surface transportation efforts.

The House wasn’t quite ready for that; instead it approved a three-month highway bill as a kind of placeholder with the idea that Congress would come together and hash out their differences. That hasn’t happened yet, as the debate over funding for Planned Parenthood has taken up all the oxygen on Capitol Hill. Boehner called the Senate’s highway bill a “piece of shit.”

Related: Congressional Magicians Create an Illusion to Finance the Highway Bill

Export-Import Bank Renewal
Successfully blocking the renewal of the New Deal-era credit agency’s charter earlier this year marked one of the first major policy wins for the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and ensured its members views needed to be taken into account on significant policy choices.

The forty or so members of the Freedom Caucus prompted weeks of palace intrigue over Boehner’s fate. Earlier this month the bloc sent him a leader saying they would not support any bill to fund the government that included money for Planned Parenthood.

While a new speaker could defer to the caucus and others like House Financial Services Committee chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) – who might want the gavel himself – about the bank’s future, Democrats are not prepared to let the issue lie. They have forced several votes to reauthorize the bank, and plan to keep bringing it up in the future.

Related: Political Ideology and the Ex-Im Bank

The GOP Conference
Whomever assumes the speakership will be faced with the same challenge that bedeviled Boehner: trying to hold together an unruly GOP conference of more than 200 members who range from moderates to rabid conservatives.

With Election Day still more than a year away, the mathematics remains the same. Republican leaders can only afford to lose just under 30 votes if they want to pass legislation without Democratic help.

It was the perception that Boehner wasn’t hard-nosed enough with Obama and was willing to cut deals with Democrats and sometimes seek their support that contributed to his downfall.