Guest Editorial: Can Ryan rule the House?
Now that the vast majority of his fellow Republicans have signaled their support, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., is poised to ascend into the most powerful office no one seems to want: speaker of the House of Representatives. If he gave it more thought, perhaps Ryan would realize that the job’s not for him either.
As outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, can attest, being in the majority isn’t as fun as it might seem. Minority parties tend to be cohesive because they’re not riven by arguments over what to do with their power. They don’t have any. A majority party, on the other hand, has to deal with its factions’ competing agendas while also keeping the wheels of government turning.
The dissident House Republicans say they want a less authoritarian House, one in which individual members have a chance to offer amendments and aren’t punished for voting against the compromises worked out by the leadership. But as reasonable as that may sound, it’s just another way of saying that they don’t want to be led. They think Boehner stopped the House from voting on proposals that could have passed, giving up the battle of ideas too early.
They’re right, to a degree. The House has given its stamp of approval to any number of ridiculously partisan (and often harebrained) Republican ideas, so the votes surely exist to pass more of them. But such gestures won’t amount to much as long as Democrats can filibuster or veto a bill. And while Ryan may be ideologically in tune with the dissidents, he’s pragmatic enough to see the futility of threatening to shut down the government or lower its credit rating unless Democrats bend to the GOP’s will.
Expressions of support notwithstanding, it’s not at all clear that the dissident Republicans will abide that kind of pragmatism. And if not, Ryan would find himself no better off than Boehner was, stuck with a cadre of members who insist on seeing their approach fail before accepting the inevitability of compromise.
At least Ryan persuaded his colleagues to let him spend most of his weekends with his wife and kids instead of raising money for congressional campaigns. Yes, the same guy who struck this important blow for work-life balance also voted against granting other federal workers paid family leave. And yes, Ryan belongs to a party that routinely blocks proposals to stem the flood of special-interest money into campaigns, a flood that explains why House speakers spend so much of their time fundraising. Nevertheless, give Ryan credit for trying to make the job more tolerable, even if its duties may very well be impossible.