New speaker following old ways
Paul Ryan is the new speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the most important jobs in the federal government and bearer of the responsibility for the legislative process in the House of Representatives.
Ryan has a strong resume within the Republican Party as the 2012 vice presidential candidate, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and designer of several proposed Republican federal spending budgets.
Ryan’s first week on the job has been busy with changing some House structures, launching a House Highway bill (the Senate has had its version of the Highway bill waiting for House action), refusing to address Immigration policy long ignored by the House, and threatening once again a government shutdown over the two year budget bill due before the end of the year.
The internal House structural changes are, for the most part, designed to grant what are often called “the back Benchers” (newer House members) some additional clout in House affairs and in opening up the floor amendment process to limitless amendments to bills offered. These changes may open up the House to better discussions, more thoughtful legislation, and more support for bills by House members.
The House Highway bill has already attracted conservative amendments totally unrelated to Highway funding including renewal of the Import-Export bank, and privatizing IRS collections of tax debt.
One thing remains unchanged in the Ryan Speakership. House Republicans, bound by Grover Norquist, cannot increase the federal gas tax, so funding for highway expenditures must be derived from other program cuts. And while the six year bill is proposed, funding is only sought for three years, yet another congressional habit, bill writing without funding secured.
The gas tax brings into the U.S. Treasury about $34 billion per year but transportation projects costs the federal government about $50 billion annually, and that is without the many Infrastructure improvements needed. Without additional funding the U.S. system will continue to degrade. The House seems unwilling to address this issue.
So the new Speaker is moving fast on his first legislative test, but so far, the bill looks a lot like the past way of governing in the House.
More troubling is Speaker Ryan’s superficial rationale for failing to address US Immigration policy. Ryan argues that since the President used executive orders for Immigration changes in enforcement that offended the House leadership the House now refuses to deal with President Obama on this issue.
Ryan says the House will only address the issue of our insecure Southern border so long as Obama is president. Unfortunately this meme is a radical Republican claim with little basis in fact. Our Southern border is more secure today than any time in the past. Net migration over the past four years is zero; the border patrol has been expanded 75 percent over the Bush/Obama administrations; expulsions have been raised to alltime highs by the Obama administration.
Meanwhile, if the House does not like the Obama executive orders, the House can end them by simply passing a bill that makes permanent changes in Immigration policy, thus negating the executive orders. But Ryan will not do this because, just like the previous House Speaker, Ryan knows his own members cannot agree on any responsible series of changes to Immigration issues. Why? Because extreme Republican rhetoric has so demonized Undocumented Immigrants in America that their base voters are intolerant of permanent status for any.
And, in a more concerning vein, Speaker Ryan seems unwilling to promise not to shut down the government over budget bills, an issue Speaker Boehner stood fast on against his own party radicals.
Welcome Speaker Ryan, good luck legislating and remember, passing bills that will never become law is not serving the American people.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.