Ryan seeks to avoid Boehner fate on omnibus

Ryan seeks to avoid Boehner fate on omnibus
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Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce MORE vowed last December to do things differently than predecessor John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi Stripping opportunity from DC's children Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE.

Most significantly, Ryan declared his hatred for end-of-year spending deals and signaled he’d do whatever he could to avoid being stuck with a massive appropriations package at the end of 2016.


A year later, despite those efforts, many on Capitol Hill expect Ryan will get stuck pushing through a trillion-dollar omnibus anyway.

It’s not for a lack of trying by the Wisconsin Republican.

Ryan last year reluctantly shoved through an omnibus package after BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi Stripping opportunity from DC's children Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE’s resignation and his own surprise ascension to the Speakership.

The omnibus was a last testament to Boehner’s troubled leadership. House conservatives pressured him to resign after they grew sick of him ramming through last-minute, backroom spending deals with Democrats.

After passing the package, Ryan said things would change.

“I hate omnibus bills and I don’t like doing these last-second bills.” Ryan told conservative radio host Bill Bennett in December.

He then suggested that moving the package would give his leadership team a fresh start.

“By getting the slate cleaned now, by getting this behind us, we can start our appropriations process early next year and do it the right way, individual bills, all 12 bills, open up the process ... do it the way the founders intended in the first place.”

Things haven’t gone exactly according to plan, however.

Ryan has scheduled more meetings for House Republicans to debate the issues of the day and huddles weekly with rank-and-file members from his 246-member conference, including potential troublemakers like Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

The former Budget Committee chairman refused to muscle a budget through the chamber this year after conservatives balked at higher spending levels.

He’s sought to move appropriations bills through the House on regular order, but faced with opposition from Senate Democrats in an election year with a particularly abbreviated schedule, there was no way those spending bills were going to get to President Obama.

Five of the 12 appropriations bills cleared the House this year but were blocked in the Senate by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Since returning from a seven-week recess, Ryan has continued to signal his determination to not get stuck with an omnibus.

After a meeting on Monday between congressional leaders and President Obama, Ryan’s office provided a readout that emphasized his objections to the though of a catchall spending bill in the December lame-duck session.

He’s calling for the package to be broken up into more manageable “minibuses.” Passing smaller, bite-sized spending packages preserves much of the appropriators’ work this year and more closely resembles regular order — a top priority of Ryan’s during his first year as Speaker.

“You learn from history there. There is a court of public opinion that you have to pay attention to, a perception, and that’s just good leadership,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who is running to become chairman of the 180-member conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Hill.

The minibus approach “is far more in line with Ryan’s commitment and ongoing conviction of regular order,” added Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Ryan ally. “He’s all about full transparency, and minibuses are far more transparent, allow floor debate in plain view of C-SPAN. And I think that’s a noble conviction and a noble goal."

“I don’t think Paul’s naive about the likelihood of it,” Cramer continued, “but at the same time he’s willing to do it.”

On Capitol Hill, there is widespread skepticism that Ryan’s efforts will be successful.

Very few people believe the minibuses will have much success in the post-election session right before the holidays. Democrats, who hold enough Senate votes to filibuster any spending bill, have panned Ryan’s minibus strategy, fearing that Republicans will use it to cut Democratic priorities while boosting defense spending.

And even some GOP appropriators close to Ryan say the idea of trying to pass a series of contentious spending bills right before the holidays is probably wishful thinking.

In the past, “what we have seen is we go in with great intentions, we create opportunities to work things out, and at the end they don’t get worked out and we fall back,” one House GOP appropriator said of the minibus strategy. “We’re still in the stage of hope, of trying to figure out a way to preserve the work that’s been done ... but we are realistic and know the president always has that bully pulpit” and veto power.

Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012 and a possible White House contender himself in 2020, knows he’ll need backing from a handful of far-right Freedom Caucus members if he wants to remain Speaker in the 115th Congress. He will easily win the nomination for the top House job when Republicans huddle privately at the Capitol after the Nov. 8 general elections. But the young Speaker will face a public roll call on the floor in January, and Ryan needs support from more than half the chamber — 218 votes — to win on the first ballot.

Recent flare ups between Ryan and the Freedom Caucus — the bloc of nearly 40 conservative rabble-rousers who helped show Boehner the door last fall — haven’t helped his cause. Freedom members were furious that Ryan didn’t do more to help save conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who lost his primary this summer to a Chamber of Commerce-backed challenger.

For now, these conservative rebels are holding their fire as Ryan negotiates a 10-week continuing resolution, or CR, and prepares for lame-duck budget talks for fiscal year 2017. But they’re not letting Ryan and his leadership team off the hook entirely.

Sources close to Ryan say he frequently meets with rank-and-file members, listens to them, has built personal relationships with them, and in turn, they trust him more.

“I believe the Speaker when he says he would like to have minibuses and a CR but ... when the Democrats are willing to shut down the government every year for the past six years in order to get their way, then the Speaker in the end knows that we have to do an omnibus in December,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the Freedom Caucus who burst onto the national political scene after unseating then-Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE in a 2014 GOP primary.

“In order to win this fight, we needed to start messaging six months ago, as soon as Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWarner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights Senate hopefuls embrace nuking filibuster Biden fails to break GOP 'fever' MORE broke his word and started gumming up the works,” Brat said, “but we did not take that approach, and so once again we will have a merry Christmas omnibus budget that infuriates the American people.”

A senior Senate Democratic aide said he was “highly skeptical” Ryan’s minibus strategy would bear fruit, and he was even more dubious that Freedom Caucus rebels would be appeased by minibuses.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said there’s a small chance Democrats could support the minibus strategy — but only if they were given assurances that parts of the budget aren't shortchanged in the process.

“I don't know what the point is of doing minibuses unless they add up to an omnibus. In other words, you can't say, ‘We're doing minibuses, which means we're only doing certain bills, we're not doing the whole package,’” Pelosi said during a news briefing in the Capitol.

“So ... if the minibuses add up to an omnibus — if everything is included — [then] we can vote on something like that when we see the whole package," she added. "But you can't ... go with one bill, use up all the money and say there's nothing left for the others."

Mike Lillis contributed.

This story was updated at 3:53 p.m.