In Ryan speakership, Republicans and Democrats see chance for a fresh start

REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan became the House’s 54th speaker on Thursday.

WASHINGTON — An October filled with drama on Capitol Hill wrapped up, improbably, with something resembling a coronation: on Thursday morning, Rep. Paul Ryan was elected the 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives with much pomp and little left to chance.

The Wisconsin Republican and one-time vice presidential nominee ascended to the House’s top spot after outgoing Speaker John Boehner suddenly announced his resignation, and his heir apparent, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, withdrew his candidacy for speaker at the last minute.

The only person who could lead the GOP conference out of the wilderness was, by near unanimous consensus, Ryan. At first Ryan made it well-known he’d prefer to pore over tax policy on his Ways and Means Committee than take the Speaker’s gavel, spending October fending off courtship from Republicans nationwide to step up.

But in spite of Ryan’s initial refusal to even consider the job, Thursday’s outcome wasn’t all that surprising. After extended entreaties from members of his caucus, Ryan made it clear that he would only enter the race if he had the overwhelming support of his conference — particularly its far right wing. After some initial doubt, Ryan won over the conservatives who sank Boehner, the so-called House Freedom Caucus, by agreeing to some of the conditions they laid out, particularly some procedural rule changes.

A clean slate

After a roll-call vote and remarks from Boehner, Ryan, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the halls of the capitol buzzed with excitement for the new, 45-year-old speaker. In the Minnesota delegation, Republicans gleefully welcomed the dawn of the Ryan Era — perhaps none more so than Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen.

Paulsen is probably the Minnesotan with the closest connection to Ryan: Paulsen serves on the Ways and Means Committee Ryan chaired, and both share a wonky inclination for tax, trade, and health care policy. When Paulsen arrived in Congress in 2009, he was a regular workout companion of Ryan, who’s known for his devotion to the P90X fitness routine.

As he lined up off the House floor to take a picture with the new Speaker, Paulsen remarked that he was surprised at the turn of events that landed Ryan in the speakership. Still, he said that Ryan is “the one person that could fill this position and do it really well, and unify both the Republican conference and potentially the House and get things working again.

“I do think he’s gonna be able to bridge a lot of the divides that exist around here…I’m really optimistic and encouraged,” Paulsen added. “It’s exciting.”

Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer shared Paulsen’s enthusiasm: “I think Paul said it best in his speech…we’re going to wipe the slate clean and move forward,” he said. “This is all about a process and then meeting the obligation we owe to the American people.”

Emmer was quick to add, however, that “we should manage expectations, because this is a big job and this isn’t someone who said, ‘I wanna be this guy.’ This is someone who was literally drafted into it.”

Democrats: gracious, but skeptical

For the most part, Democrats played the part of gracious minority on the House floor Thursday. Though 184 Democrats cast votes for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, they dutifully stood for applause lines in Ryan’s speech, and Pelosi delivered warm remarks before handing Ryan the gavel.

“What was interesting to me,” Emmer said afterward, “is that Democrats seem to be as genuinely excited about a fresh start as Republicans.”

Within the Minnesota delegation, that rang at least somewhat true. Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum, who served on the House Budget Committee when Ryan chaired that panel, said she assumed Ryan would conduct himself in the same way Boehner did: “respecting everyone’s election certificate” and with an open door to every member, regardless of party.

McCollum added hoped Ryan’s remarks on the importance of a “respected minority” referred to Democrats, not conservative Republicans. “I think we have a lot of good ideas and things to bring to the floor,” McCollum said. “If he has challenges within his caucus, we’ve shown that we’re willing to find the common ground to move this country forward.”

In a statement, Rep. Tim Walz congratulated Ryan, and said he “look[s] forward to working with him on the issues that matter most to southern Minnesota.”

Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison didn’t sound especially excited to be under new management, saying in a statement that the new speaker should focus on affordable housing, child care, medical research and more. “Paul Ryan may be the Speaker of the House now, but the better choice is the person who will do those things, and that’s Nancy Pelosi.”

Boehner’s obstacles aren’t going away

Though Thursday’s ceremony was mostly about Ryan, there were plenty of tributes to Boehner from both sides of the aisle. Referring to the Wednesday budget deal that averted a shutdown and debt default, McCollum said, “This country owes a debt of gratitude for the leadership John Boehner showed.”

The circumstances of Boehner’s departure — chiefly, an inability to unite the moderate and conservative wings of his conference — couldn’t help but cast a shadow on Ryan’s ascent.

Ryan himself acknowledged the House’s fissures in his speech. “Let’s be frank,” he said, “the House is broken. We’re not solving problems, we’re adding to them.” Members from across the ideological spectrum praised Ryan’s stated intent to bring the House back to so-called “regular order” — where legislation works its way to the floor via the committee process, and real budgets are passed instead of stopgap continuing resolutions.

But it’s unclear if procedural realignment will be enough to fend off the forces that drove Boehner out. Paulsen admitted Ryan is “going to have some challenges…there’s still gonna be a handful of folks who are gonna want to throw rocks, but by and large, a lot of people want to give him a shot.” Nine conservative Republicans declined to vote for Ryan, and 167 Republicans voted Wednesday to reject the bipartisan budget deal — which was similar to a plan Ryan advanced in 2013.

Among Minnesotans, Ryan may receive some benefit of the doubt by virtue of some shared Midwestern pride. He hails from the southern Wisconsin town of Janesville, about 150 miles from Minnesota’s southeastern corner, and is the first Badger Stater to hold the Speakership. (Meanwhile, the last Minnesotan to even whiff the speakership was Harold Knutson, who was the Republican whip from 1919 to 1923.)

Though Paulsen is a big Ryan fan, he admitted he could improve. “Now we gotta make him a Vikings fan,” he said. “That’s my only goal.”

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Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/30/2015 - 01:02 pm.

    A functioning Congress might do wonders for the Republican Party going into an election year where most folks are pretty much fed up with them.

    It will all be for naught, though, since they will pass no electoral and campaign reforms, since suppressing the Democratic Party vote is the only reason they have any power to begin with.

    Republican’s election certificates just don’t depend on the 99%, and that tells the whole sad story of their decline.

  2. Submitted by Geo. Greene on 10/30/2015 - 01:18 pm.

    I guess I’ll believe it…

    …when I see it.

    Does anyone actually believe the GOP will stop acting like the impetuous bully who breaks all the toys if he can’t get them all? The GOP has been off the deep end for a decade now and seems to only get ever more extreme. The fact that the most intransigent are willing to let a slightly less intransigent member be Speaker is encouraging -I guess- but I seriously doubt it’s a change of extremist ideology, or even a willingness, at the very least, to come to creative solutions with Democrats.

  3. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 10/30/2015 - 01:27 pm.

    You can change the skipper on the Titanic…

    …but it is still headed for the ice berg. Why would the fanatics change their tune just because there is a new speaker. Ryan will do his best to cover up the huge fracture in his party, but someone like Cruz will blast it open as soon as he sees a political advantage to doing so (not necessarily a reality-based advantage, just one he thinks he sees).

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 10/30/2015 - 02:58 pm.

    Wow, I didn’t realize with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the Govt ran so smoothly. I must have dreamt they never passed a budget during their stints as leaders, passed Obamacare through procedural vote, passed Dodd/Frank screwing small banks plus growing “too big to fail” to new heights, backed Arab Spring tactics, passed a 1 TRILLION dollar stimulus package where 6% went to infrastructure, never met a regulation they didn’t like and my favorite dream of all is after they ran a 1.4 TRILLION dollar deficit (spent 1.4T more than they took in) in 2008 running deficits of only 400 BILLION is cutting the deficit by over half and being facially responsible. That makes as much sense as the family that makes $100,000 a year saying after they over spent by $50,000 in 2013 they were being responsible by only over spending by $25,000 in 2014. Most liberals agree with this and I’m sure will voice their support here.

    How about the new Speaker tries spending what we take in and does the People’s business in the light of day. Enough back room deals where only the rich make out and the middle class gets screwed while politicians on both sides of the isle pad their re-election campaigns.

    • Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 10/30/2015 - 05:41 pm.

      I can’t figure your point

      You seem to think that the recession, huge deficits and gridlock started in 2008. It started in 2004 when the republican administration sponsored an unfunded war, a tax cut that took a surplus and turned into a gaping deficit. They also passed a huge unfunded Medicare benefit increase. With Democratic help. Add a war funded “off budget” that probably added 2T to our deficit, conservatively, as well as tax cuts that added 5T to the deficit during the Bush administration. Did I mention the current Senate majority leader, who in the midst of a huge financial crisis not seen since the depression, stated his goal was to make him and our country fail?

      The blame for what happened is likely at least 60% on the GOP for these messes. Ryan is no wonk, just another truth challenged grifter and he will likely fail. His party will ensure that happens. And Faux News will turn on him the first time he tries to act like an adult.

      The real issue is the dysfunction of the Republican caucus. Governing requires cooperation and negotiation. 40 nihilist tea party terrorists are willing to tank our credit rating and economy because they think you get elected to RULE. You don’t, you get elected to GOVERN. The rest of the GOP caucus is terrified of unleashing these Tea Party nihilists on themselves. Until they man up and act like a real party, they will keep failing. Someone needs the children in the GOP to be quiet and try to govern for a change. Boehner tried, he just got tired of it. But he also encouraged this nonsense.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 10/31/2015 - 10:04 am.

      Wow, didn’t realize:

      The article was about democratic fiscal policy, thought it was about Ryan and his ascension to speaker? Did the bus take a turn someplace?

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/01/2015 - 05:44 pm.

        Well Actually

        “Republicans and Democrats see chance for a fresh start”

        This part of the title kind of opened the door, and the Liberal commenters pouncing on and blaming the GOP for the past gridlock pretty much held it open. The reality is that the Democrats are no more willing to negotiate than the normal Republican. Both seem to be fine with us running a deficit during an economic recovery, which makes no sense to me.

        I am just hoping the GOP can get its act together and starts making Obama Veto more bills.

        • Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/01/2015 - 11:58 pm.

          You must have missed this part:

          “my favorite dream of all is after they ran a 1.4 TRILLION dollar deficit (spent 1.4T more than they took in) in 2008”

          What year did the current president take office?

          And, now that the door has been opened, and while we’re at it, would you please elaborate on your definition or description of “the normal Republican”? I’m curious as to what that means, from your point of view.

          For instance… I’ve kind of lost count, but I think there are now somewhere between at least 10 or 12 and 14 or 15 Republicans vying for the presidential nomination. Which of those people would you categorize as normal Republicans, and (if you’ve got time), why?

          Thanks in advance.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/02/2015 - 08:16 am.

            Normal distribution

            I agree that Joe got a little over zealous. This is my best understanding of who owns what in 2008/2009.

            The GOP like the Democratic party is made up many unique individuals, each with their own beliefs. For the GOP: some are DINO’s, some are Conservative and some are very Conservative. I would say that the normal Republican would be in the middle of the normal distribution. (ie the Conservative camp)

            I have not spent much time studying the candidates, since the election is still a year way and I have better things to do. However my guess is that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are likely normal Republicans. Just like Boehner and Ryan are. I use my far Right Parents to help gauge this and they don’t like Bush… Here is where the apparently stand on the issues.


            • Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/02/2015 - 09:52 am.

              The new center and left

              That’s pretty much what I thought: Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush would be considered representative of today’s normal, or “establishment,” Republican.

              One of the most interesting and, some would say, disturbing, thing about that is I can’t think of any Republican in the pres mix that is “to their left,” which, as many have been pointing out for quite a while now, seems to show that core Republican thinking has moved SO far to the right that those two guys are borderline, if not obviously, RINOs in the minds of many Repubs. It may just be me, but no matter where a person stands, based on their records, it would be hard to call either M. Rubio or J. Bush “moderates.”

              And when it comes to Paul Ryan being perceived to be a normal Republican (which I understand too), the first thing I always think of is his 2010 budget plan that he called the “Path to Prosperity” which, to me, just underscores the same big “shift to the right.”

              “The Ryan Budget’s Radical Priorities

              “Provides Largest Tax Cuts in History for Wealthy, Raises Middle Class Taxes, Ends Guaranteed Medicare, Privatizes Social Security, Erodes Health Care”

              Among several (“double-down on trickle-down”) provisions in his plan, the proposed “compounding” of tax cuts for America’s wealthiest (presented just two years after the crash of 2008) struck me as one of the more bizarre ideas a “Ranking Republican” could produce and broadcast (proudly) to America at that particular time:

              “The Roadmap would give the most affluent households a new round of very large, costly tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax. At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”


              The point is not to get into re-hashing the tax issue, but to further illustrate how far to the right the perspective (and actions) of the Republican party has moved. It’s genuinely amazing to me that people like Paul Ryan (Rubio, Bush and others) are beginning to be seen as those at the Republican center or, even more strangely, its left, on the outskirts of RINOland.

              (And, as what may be a related side note, the news told me this morning that the Republican pres candidates got together over the weekend and took some kind of vote that resulted in them coming out and saying they have now “cut ties” with the Republican National Committee when it comes to the debates. Apparently, the candidates, as a group, and through an attorney, will now be negotiating on their own with “the media” concerning debate questions, moderators, terms, etc..)

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/02/2015 - 10:26 am.


                Remember my continuum.
                We have Sanders trying to pull us to a 2 position.
                We have Hillary maybe aiming for a 4 position
                We have Jeb/Marco aiming for a 6 or 7 position
                And the far Righters aiming for an 8 or 9

       my continuum…

                To me it is just a question of who do you want deciding how much you will save, where you will invest it, who will choose your insurance policy, etc. If a person wants the politicians and bureaucrats doing this, vote for Democrats. If you want to control it yourself, vote for a Republican.

                • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/03/2015 - 05:15 pm.

                  Sorry we disagree

                  Although this is now way off topic:

                  The right will continue to make sure at a federal level, (the well to do) get more than their fair share, with the rhetoric its a state issue, which really means, dump the federal problems on the states, and from a state level unless we want a 3rd world country will have to generate the revenue locally. Nice try though. Would really want to know how the right policies etc. promote “We the people” vs we the individual.

                  From another perspective it appears folks are still fighting for a confederacy of states, vs a Union of states, need we go back to the Federalist Papers again? Start all over and abolish the Constitution? So quickly we forget or chose to ignore why things are the way they are. Starting with, Hamilton 1, “The utility of the UNION”, “The insufficiency of the present Confederation”

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/04/2015 - 07:09 am.

                    Total Spend

                    Please remember that I use the Total Spend for the continuum, so Fed vs State control is a different topic.

                    Often folks want to compare us to small European National democracies, whereas we pay a lot of taxes at all 3 levels. (ie Local, State, National)

                    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/04/2015 - 04:25 pm.

                      Sorry not sure where this is going?

                      Again way way off topic!

                      “To me it is just a question of who do you want deciding how much you will save, where you will invest it, who will choose your insurance policy, etc. If a person wants the politicians and bureaucrats doing this, vote for Democrats. If you want to control it yourself, vote for a Republican.”

                      Abolish S/S and medicare etc. let folks die in the streets? “How much you will save”
                      Where you invest? Meaning get rid of special tax breaks for investors short term vs. long term, 401 K’s, depreciation, etc?
                      “Choose insurance?” Abolish company insurance plans? Obama care you choose your own plan. Companies HR chooses it for us.

                      Is that the point?


                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/04/2015 - 06:49 pm.

                      Please remember that my target is 33%. 1/3 for government and 2/3 for my family.

                      Currently the government forces everyone to pay 15.5% of their first $115K of income into mandatory savings / insurance. This may not be a bad idea if a large part of the population does not have the capability or interest in saving for retirement. But for better or worse, this is government deciding what you will save, where it will be invested and if you will get it back.

                      By the way, if you work hard, save, and invest outside the program… You will get much less of it back than someone who spends liberally.

                      Yes our government has tried to promote saving and investing. Unfortunately it is still too hard for many people to do so.

                      If I dislike my company’s health plan, my co-workers and I am free to look for a better job. If citizens dislike the one payer system, oh oh…

                    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/04/2015 - 10:02 pm.

                      1 point

                      Disagree: if your income is capital gains there is no 15% mandatory. Tax loop hole for the wealthy.
                      Precisely a point we have discussed many times out here.

  5. Submitted by Mike Davidson on 11/02/2015 - 08:46 am.

    Freedom Caucus Puppet?

    Paul Ryan has already caved to demands from the “Freedom Caucus” and he himself demanded “family time” two days per week to be with his family. This man is supposed to be the third-highest ranking official in Washington, D.C. and he’s demanding two days per week blocked off for family?!?! Congress already works only 1/3 of the year. Then there’s the public announcement that the House will not take up Immigration Reform. He hasn’t held the job for one week and he’s already snubbed a huge voting bloc the GOP actually needs to win a general election. No, this guy is much worse than John Boehner. Boehner may have lacked the spine to stand up to his caucus’ fringe groups/members, but at least he knew how to go around them.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/02/2015 - 09:14 am.

    Ryan, a “fresh” start?

    Yeah, that’s funny.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/02/2015 - 08:43 pm.

    Hate to say it but:

    It appears the fresh start lasted about what, less than 3-4 days? Seems this column can’t even get a fresh start, how does anyone expect DC to move forward? Would be real curious, really curious, what does a “Centralist” look like? Are they like Unicorns? Got my ideas, be interested in other folks point of view.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/02/2015 - 10:50 pm.

      Who would be in between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton?

      Along those lines…

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/03/2015 - 05:56 pm.

        Good Question

        Way off topic but,

        Don’t believe there is a “who” and that is why JEB’s numbers are so low, he is being rejected by the GOP for being to moderate, not mainstream far right. The post article suggests the same. That leaves a lot of room for folks like Hillary to maneuver. This voter puts her right wing of the left, especially relative to Saunders.

        There may be a “who” depending on specific policy.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/03/2015 - 08:24 pm.

          Oh Please

          You asked… “Would be real curious, really curious, what does a “Centralist” look like? ” I answered.

          Hover over the dots in the middle of the graph linked to here for some good RINOs and DINOs.

          By the way, the WP piece made it clear that staying a Centrist is hard for all politicians, not just Conservative leaning ones. I would be curious to know how Hillary’s numbers would be if she had a dozen or so qualified competitors? Based on the Democratic debate, the other 3 candidates seemed a bit weak.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/04/2015 - 07:12 am.

            It Looks Like

            Richard Lugar may be a winner…


          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/04/2015 - 04:40 pm.

            Perhaps mis-communicated

            Way-way off topic:

            The term centralist was used in 2 ways, in terms of policy/governing position, and relative to JEB and Clinton, where are they relative to central. And that would be based on what do folks consider “center” . Although Lugar may be a good candidate to look somewhat centralist, the point I was driving at was: Lugar a republican, looks way left relative to where the majority of the Republican candidates are, for many folks, central right, why because their idealism is polarized.
            The last piece is hypothetical, there are dozens of qualified folks, they just chose not to run. And of course it would depend on who ran, if. they rann to the left or right of her. Which is the point, from this perspective she is running at the far right of the democratic party, which of course looks very left if one is looking from a far right polarized perspective,

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/04/2015 - 06:35 pm.


              The Hillary govtrack graph shows Shows Hillary to be smack dab in the middle of the Democrat block. And it shows Rubio to be smack dab in the middle of the GOP…

              In my view and per the article, both the Left and Right are polarized… That is why there are so few of either side in the middle of the govtrack chart… 🙂

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2015 - 08:25 am.

    “Bright Sided”

    Nice little book about irrational optimism by Barbara Ehrenreich. Anyone who was expecting a “fresh” start should check it out.

  9. Submitted by John Appelen on 11/05/2015 - 01:15 pm.

    1 Point

    “Disagree: if your income is capital gains there is no 15% mandatory. Tax loop hole for the wealthy. Precisely a point we have discussed many times out here.”

    I am not sure there are many people out there who avoid paying FICA on a regular basis. Even rich people have jobs, if you call them that. If you work for or own a business, you will pay. My wife has to pay the full ~15.5% on her profits. And if one does not pay, one does not get much for benefits….

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