Speaker Paul Ryan eyes strategy for government shutdown fight

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) strategy for avoiding a government shutdown is taking shape, with his leadership team seeking a clean break from the divisive intraparty warfare that plagued John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) tenure.  

GOP leaders on Monday predicted there would be no shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding and made clear that they expect an omnibus package to be approved with Democratic support before money runs out on Dec. 11.

{mosads}“I do not see a shutdown happening in this process,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters during a 25-minute briefing in his office in the Capitol.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), the GOP’s chief vote-counter, issued a warning of his own, telling rank-and-file Republicans they need to play a constructive role in the legislative process.

“The vote that hurts our Conference is the no vote from a Member who hopes the bill passes, but relies on others to carry that load,” Scalise wrote in a letter to his GOP whip team. “That vote isn’t fair to the Members who shoulder the responsibility of voting yes, and it isn’t fair to the Republican Conference as a whole.”

The message to the GOP rank and file, delivered before most lawmakers had even returned to Washington from the Thanksgiving break, appeared clear: This funding fight needs to be different.

House GOP leaders have repeatedly been forced to lean on Democrats to fund the government, a pattern that Boehner was helpless to stop despite repeated attempts to unify the conference.

This time, Ryan’s team is pushing more of their members to line up behind a catchall, $1.1 trillion spending bill and play a bigger role in averting a shutdown.

Ryan scheduled a series of “listening sessions” before the Thanksgiving break to solicit ideas on how to shape the unfinished appropriations bills and bring members into the process earlier.

The listening sessions, held by Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and the panel’s subcommittee chiefs, have been well received, lawmakers said.

“Prevailing feedback is that it was helpful to all,” a GOP aide said.

In addition, both Ryan and McCarthy insist that riders proposed by both parties will be part of the omnibus bill, defying Democratic warnings that more controversial policy provisions would be “poison pills” and spark a confrontation with President Obama.

Still, while McCarthy on Monday promised a vigorous debate over funding for national security, Planned Parenthood and other issues, Scalise urged Republicans to stick together so the GOP emerges from the fight stronger.

“The story of a bill that passed with 150 Republican votes is much more positive and assertive than the story of a bill that passes with 79 Republican votes,” Scalise wrote in his letter.

“My point is simple: if there are 150 Republicans who hope the bill passes, then there should be 150 Republicans who vote yes on final passage.”

Passage of a government funding bill is perhaps the first major test for Ryan, who saw first-hand how Boehner’s Speakership was destroyed during showdowns with Democrats.

During the Boehner era, must-pass spending bills were frequently made available to rank-and-file lawmakers right before the deadline. As a result, conservative hard-liners who had been cut out of the process usually bucked leadership and voted against the bills.

In March, 167 House Republicans voted against a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security as they protested Obama’s executive actions on immigration. A shutdown at the agency was averted largely because of the unanimous support of Democrats, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) coming to Boehner’s rescue.

Ryan has been taking a different approach, seeking to get buy-in from members at the front end of the process rather than dropping something on them at the last minute.

His efforts to overhaul internal GOP rules and procedures also could help him win support for the omnibus from some of the usual defectors. Before Thanksgiving, the Speaker shepherded through Steering Committee reforms, appeasing conservatives who have pushed to decentralize power in the 246-member conference.   

The Wisconsin Republican has also been wooing key lawmakers who have the potential for causing him headaches. He recently invited Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), his only rival in the Speaker’s race, to meet with him for an hour to discuss ways to pursue a “bottom-up, member-driven” approach to governing, Webster told The Hill.

One of the promises Ryan made the conservative Freedom Caucus as he was running for Speaker: He would not retaliate against fellow Republicans if they fell out of line on critical votes.

Whether the new approach succeeds in uniting the House Republican Conference remains to be seen.

Democrats appear ready for a fight, believing they have the upper hand.

Ryan “doesn’t want to preside over a government shutdown six weeks into his tenure,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Devin Henry contributed.

Tags Boehner John Boehner Paul Ryan

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