By Bill Kaplan
Late last week Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan finally reached agreement with House Republicans to serve as speaker of the House. Ryan said: "I am ready and eager to be our speaker." The reaction was underwhelming:
• The headline from the Washington Post Fix said it all: "Who had the worst week in Washington? Rep. Paul Ryan." The Fix opined that Ryan had 218 votes to become speaker, but "it's not entirely clear whether" the GOP caucus will support "raising the debt ceiling (limit) or funding the government. You know, the big stuff";
• The New York Times editorialized: "Paul Ryan, a speaker for the Freedom Caucus.....Ryan has been a true conservative hard-liner. His ascension promises no great relief to citizens hoping for sparks of compromise in Washington. His assorted budget blueprints have been more demagogic than helpful for rational government;"
• Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote: "Doomed to failure...The main problem is that Ryan is said to have promised to follow the 'Hastert Rule', named for former speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), requiring that legislation have the support of a majority of the GOP caucus before it is brought to the House floor";
• And, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a Ryan supporter, exclaimed: "As soon as Paul steps into this job, we've got the debt limit, a budget agreement, omnibus (spending bill), transportation - all those things are going to require collaboration and cooperation with the other side of the aisle (not likely because of 'Hastert Rule')."
Already the House GOP is back to the same old playbook. The federal debt limit, the total amount that the U.S. is authorized to borrow to finance spending made by past congressional action, is set to expire November 3. However, on Wednesday, the GOP-led House passed a gimmick that would require the government to pay the nation's creditors and Social Security recipients first if the debt limit is not raised. But conservative Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office (Bush administration 2003 - 2005) said: It's "political cover, but not a solution of any type....And, I don't think international investors will be mollified by the fact that they got their two bucks while the U.S. burned down." All Wisconsin GOP reps., including Ryan, voted yes, while all Wisconsin Democratic reps. voted no.
Later the House GOP leadership scuttled an even more extreme measure to raise the debt limit, e.g., would have required $3.8 trillion in federal spending cuts in exchange. Then on Friday the GOP-led House went back for the 61st time, and voted to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act. All Wisconsin GOP reps., including Ryan, voted yes. All Wisconsin Democratic reps. voted no.
Hard to see a happy ending here. Perhaps the nation will avoid a government shutdown, but fiery conservative talk radio, enraged right-wing groups and incendiary GOP presidential candidates keep demanding another destructive manufactured crisis. Can Rep. Ryan save the GOP from itself? Not likely. Eugene Robinson said: Ryan is "a devout man of faith, he will need your prayers."
-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.