Ryan Gets Up to Speed with a Highway Bill Victory
Policy + Politics

Ryan Gets Up to Speed with a Highway Bill Victory


Newly installed House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI) said the six-year, $325 billion highway bill would be a “good place to start” changing the way legislation gets done in Washington.

So far, so good.

The House voted 363-64 on Thursday to approve the bill. The legislation must now be reconciled with the Senate version.

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The bill’s passage gives Ryan a major victory in his first week on the job. He appears to have earned some added credibility from his colleagues as he kept his vow to give rank-and file-members a greater say in the legislative process.

“This is a good start. It's a glimpse of how we should be doing the people's business,” the Wisconsin Republican said Thursday during his first solo press conference as speaker, noting that more than 100 amendments from both parties were worked through on the House floor.

“But we still have a ways to go,” he added.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who held the speaker’s gavel from 2007-2011, passed on giving Ryan’s first week a grade, describing the speakership as a hard job.

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“Just getting through the week is an accomplishment,” she said during her own Capitol Hill press conference.

The road ahead isn’t entirely smooth for Ryan. Besides merging the transportation bills, lawmaker still must write an omnibus spending bill that keeps the government open beyond a December 11 deadline. A fight is brewing over attaching policy riders to the must-pass measure, a tactic Ryan himself has not ruled out. If Democrats believe the GOP majority goes too far with its add-ons, they could dig in their heels, once again raising the threat of a possible government shutdown.

On Thursday, Ryan seemed pleased with how thing are going so far, though he made it clear that he is aware that not every week will go like this one.

“I've got to tell you, bills will come up that may not pass,” he told reporters, trying to get ahead of something that is almost certain to happen during his time as speaker. “We're not going to bottle up the process so much and pre-determine the outcome of everything around here. I want the House to work its will. I think that's the way the founders envisioned it to work. And so that means some things will pass and some things won't, and we’re going to let that happen.”

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Failure on the House floor is usually viewed as a sign of weak leadership. Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner, spent much of his last year in office working to avoid such difficulties, such as having a controversial bill bottled up in the House Rules Committee or suspending floor proceedings to hold emergency meetings of the House GOP conference until enough Republicans got on the same page.

Much as he did last week in his acceptance speech, when has said the House was “broken,” Ryan said those days are over.

“The way I am trying to do this job is the way that I always thought it should have been done, and that is to make this a more open process, so that every citizen in this country, through their elected representatives, has an opportunity to make a difference,” he said.

“I wanted to have a process that is more open, more inclusive, more deliberative, more participatory, and that's what we're trying to do,” Ryan added.