By Bill Kaplan
The Associated Press reported: "House Republicans departed Washington on Friday having missed a deadline to pass their long-stalled budget....despite the embarrassment for the party and its new House Speaker Paul Ryan." However, former Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Dave Obey, in an exclusive interview, cut through the chaff. Obey said: "Much of the press is taken in by style and does not understand the budget process. Ryan has a moderate personality. But the primary reason Congress has not funded the federal government is Ryan's ideological overreaching. He has pushed the House to make extreme reductions in domestic discretionary spending which even many Republicans do not want to implement."
The budget has become just a press release. For example, the House budget Committee has approved a so-called "deficit-slashing plan" 20-16 (Wisconsin GOP Rep. Glenn Grothman - yes with Wisconsin Democratic Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan - no). The New York Times (NYT) said it was "an illustrative wish list rather than binding legislation...." It calls for repealing the Affordable Care Act (239,000 Wisconsinites could lose health care coverage), gutting Medicaid and making Medicare a voucher program. Education, health-science research, safety-net programs and student loan subsidies are all on the chopping block, while sharply increasing defense spending. "Actually implementing the cuts would require follow-up legislation, something Republicans have never attempted, in great part because it would be futile so long as President Barack Obama occupies the Oval Office (veto) - and not worth the political tumult" (NYT).
Speaker Ryan has not fixed the House. Instead he is placating the most extreme elements in the House GOP caucus while arguing that leadership should come from the House committees. Ryan stands aside with pressing problems unresolved: Wisconsin GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has been trying for some time to repair the key enforcement provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court. Sensenbrenner said: "It is vital to this country's commitment to never again permit racial prejudice to determine who has access to a ballot." However, his bipartisan bill is bottled-up in the House Judiciary Committee. Sensenbrenner has called for action: "The 2016 primary season has been marred by hateful rhetoric and ugly politics. Passing the (strengthened) Voting Rights Act of 2015 would be Congress's most enlightened response." Ryan is nowhere to be seen.
Finally, although Speaker Ryan has made commendable criticisms of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump's bigotry and extremism, he never actually mentioned Trump by name. The Washington Post said that Ryan is a "bystander" who "refuses to repudiate Mr. Trump". The hour is late. The Grand Old Party is close to nominating a nativist racist. Conservative pundits such as Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin and George Will have correctly called Trump a fascist. History will not be forgiving of Ryan's lack of leadership.
-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.