When Paul Ryan accepted the nomination for the speakership he promised his colleagues that he’d deliver a more regular process. He promised more inclusion in developing strategy, more opportunities for amendments, and greater representation on panels that organize the chamber. So far he has delivered on some promises but continues to struggle on others. Unfortunately for the Speaker, his failures are more likely to get press than his achievements.
Speaker Ryan has delivered in areas where he has clear control. As the de facto leader of the Rules Committee he’s clearly prioritized a more liberal amendment process. Bills are coming to the floor with more opportunities for rank-and-file to alter the language. Since January, Ryan has allowed amendments at nearly a 4-1 clip (structured v. closed rules) according to the Rules Committee website. To those crying for a greater voice on legislation this has to be a welcomed development. It’s a clear break from Ryan’s predecessors in both parties and a step toward a more regular process, though it’s still a far cry from what was “regular” a few decades ago.
Ryan has also kept his promise in regards to internal Republican housekeeping. He reformed the Republican steering committee, removing committee chairs and adding a strong conservative to the panel. This weakens the Speaker while opening a door, albeit a small one, for more conservative influence.
Ryan has also been more inclusive in developing legislative strategy. In February he held a multi-hour beer and pizza summit with conservatives to discuss budget strategy. He’s held several other meetings with members to discuss priorities, party strategy, and other business. By all accounts, he’s opened the door to his office. Members may not agree with every decision he makes, but they can’t complain that he isn’t listening.
All of this is juxtaposed with possibly Ryan’s greatest shortcoming: delivering even something remotely regular in the budget and appropriations cycles. The Budget Committee reported a resolution several weeks ago but it is effectively dead. It doesn’t have the votes to pass on the floor. Ryan has been unable to corral defense hawks and conservatives to support a single resolution. That isn’t because of a lack of trying. Some very unique plans have been floated to try and find the sweet spot between these Republican factions. However, those plans break basically every rule that has been considered “regular” in congressional history.
That’s left Ryan in a difficult spot. The House is destined to a definitively irregular budget and appropriations process. Failure to pass a budget means the House is unlikely to pass appropriations bills. If conservatives remain committed to their version of the budget, Congress as a whole is unlikely to pass any of the 12 appropriations bills. This means the House is setting itself on a trajectory for either a CR into 2017, a shutdown heading into the election, or potentially both. The House’s inability to deliver a budget is a huge failure with potentially damning implications.
The reality is that Ryan can only deliver a regular process if his caucus wants one. And at this point in Ryan’s tenure it’s unclear that members who called for more regular order really want it. If they do, they don’t want it on budgetary matters. With only a few dozen legislative days left in this session Ryan’s track record is unlikely to change. The time for a full return to regular order has come and passed. However, it’s noteworthy to keep in mind the areas where Ryan has delivered as well as those where he didn’t.