As a rule, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) only receives one kind of press: glowing. The political establishment long ago decided the far-right congressman is the Republican Party’s Golden Boy, a status that propelled Ryan to his party’s 2012 vice presidential nomination (a historical rarity for a young House member), a Speaker’s gavel he said he didn’t want, and even 2016 presidential scuttlebutt long after he removed himself from consideration.
Given all of this, it was striking to see Politico run a piece this week noting an inconvenient truth that undercuts the broader narrative: nearly six months into his powerful new post, Paul Ryan isn’t actually accomplishing much of anything.
Almost six months into the job, Ryan and his top lieutenants face questions about whether the Wisconsin Republican’s tenure atop the House is any more effective than that of his predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Ryan has flattered the House Freedom Caucus and pursued promises to empower rank-and-file Republicans with reforms to how the House operates – yet it’s yielded little in the way of actual results.Democrats are openly mocking their GOP counterparts, and Republicans grumble – in private so far – that nothing is getting done under Ryan. Like Boehner, Ryan is finding out that becoming speaker is easier than being speaker, at least in the still badly divided House GOP Conference.
All of this has the added benefit of being true. Ryan wanted to pass a budget, but his efforts failed. He said he supports tackling voting rights, but his members rejected it. The Wisconsin Republican expressed an interest in moving forward on a variety of legislative measures – tax reform, criminal-justice reform, responding to the opioid epidemic, an FAA overhaul, addressing Puerto Rico’s fiscal problems, etc. – all of which are either dead or in deep trouble.
The Politico piece tried to take note of some of Ryan’s “wins” since becoming Speaker, and the article highlighted “a bill calling for Obamacare’s repeal” – which is a bill that (a) tried to take health care benefits away from millions of families; and (b) never stood any chance of becoming law.
If this is what counts as a Ryan “victory,” it’s no wonder people are starting to talk about his ineffectiveness.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy majority whip, told Politico Ryan’s difficulties are President Obama’s fault, because the president “is not willing to compromise in any way, shape or form.”
It’s difficult to know sometimes when Patrick McHenry is kidding.
Regardless, it’s important to note in fairness that many of the same questions dogging Ryan now were asked about John Boehner during his tenure as the top House Republican. Can anyone effectively lead the House GOP? Is it really the leader’s fault when his ostensible followers are radical ideologues who reject the very idea of responsible governing?
The questions aren’t unreasonable, and the answers might shift some of the responsibility for congressional ineptitude away from the Speaker and towards his members.
But it wasn’t long ago that Paul Ryan, hailed as a dynamic young wonk who can do it all, was expected to succeed where Boehner did not. There’s still time for the House to approve worthwhile legislation, but for now, those expectations appear to be misguided.