House Republicans are about to blow through a statutory deadline to pass an annual budget, a major embarrassment for Speaker Paul Ryan that raises questions about his stewardship of the House despite his high profile on the national stage. A day after rampant speculation forced him to call a news conference to deny he wants to run for president this year, Ryan insisted Wednesday that he hadn't given up on the House's obligation to pass its annual spending blueprint, even though the Friday deadline looks impossible to meet.
The recent interest in Paul Ryan's presidential plans (or lack thereof) was understandable. Republicans have been looking for a possible savior candidate to come riding into the convention on a white horse, and the House Speaker seemed like a viable alternative to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
But let's not allow speculation about Paul Ryan's future plans obscure the fact that he's struggling badly in his current job. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
In fairness, I should note that some budget deal may yet come together, but no one seems to think that's at all likely. The Hill reported last night, "House Republicans are coming to a consensus on this year's budget bill: There won't be one. GOP lawmakers are universally accepting that the party will blow past a budget deadline on Friday, and say voting on a budget at all this year is unlikely."
Ryan, you'll recall, is the former chairman of the Budget Committee. In other words, House Republicans chose a Speaker who knows a thing or two about writing and passing budgets. It's ostensibly the Wisconsin congressman's specialty.
And yet, while John Boehner never missed a budget deadline during his tenure, Ryan is all but certain to miss his tomorrow, largely because right-wing House members don't like the party's budget plan, and the Speaker hasn't been able to persuade them.
Politico added yesterday, "Not long ago, congressional Republicans said authoring and passing a budget were the basics of governing. They flew into open rage when Harry Reid's Senate Democrats took a pass on advancing a fiscal blueprint, and threatened to withhold lawmakers' pay as a punishment."
Among those who used to mock Democrats relentlessly for missed budget deadlines? A guy by the name of Paul Ryan.
The AP report added that for all the hype surrounding the Republican leader, the budget "is not the only area where House Republicans are faltering under Ryan's leadership. Very little significant legislation has been moving."
In a sentence that helps capture the GOP's post-policy attitudes, the article added, "Ryan has aimed his sights higher than the nitty-gritty of legislating."
Right. Of course. He's only the Speaker of the House, why focus on distracting annoyances such as passing bills? Isn't it better to release cool videos that spark conversation about Ryan and the presidency?
The practical effects of Congress failing to pass a budget are admittedly limited. I won't bore you with the details of the federal budgetary process, but the spending blueprint isn't responsible for keeping the government running; appropriations bills are. The budget matters, but it's not absolutely necessary, and most Americans will never notice the difference.
But what's striking about this week's developments is the brazen hypocrisy of it all. When Democrats were in the Senate majority, and they largely took a pass on passing annual budgets, GOP leaders were apoplectic. Four years ago at this time, Mitch McConnell said, "I don't think the law says, 'Pass a budget unless it's hard.'"
At a 2012 press conference, a reporter asked the Senate Republican leader whether Americans could expect Congress to pass a budget if the GOP controlled by the House and Senate. "Every year," McConnell replied.
Best of all, none of this can be blamed on President Obama, since the White House has practically no role in the congressional budget process. The White House produced a budget earlier this year, and sent it to Congress for its consideration, but Republicans ignored the document, confident they could do better.
Instead, they've apparently given up on the process altogether, conveniently forgetting how important they said it was in the recent past.