As of last night, the Washington Post’s report on the subtleties of Paul Ryan’s reaction to the budget deal summed up the prevailing view. Ryan would eschew the process while remaining ambiguous on the content, and “walk a fine line” that would allow for the bill to move forward while venting the frustration of conservatives over the two-year deal that leaves them handcuffed for the rest of the session:
But the most closely watched player on Capitol Hill on Tuesday was Ryan, who walked a fine line between appeasing the conservative lawmakers he will routinely have to corral in his new job and endorsing the budget legislation, which those conservatives oppose.
He did so by making a distinction between the substance of the deal and the way in which it was struck: “I think this process stinks,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday. “Under new management, we are not going to run the House this way.”
That message appears calibrated to avoid alienating GOP lawmakers who have pressed for a more bottom-up approach to House management. But Ryan also steered clear of the deal’s specifics, which are deeply unsettling to House conservatives and largely similar to the provisions of a deal Ryan struck two years ago with Obama and Senate Democrats.
The approach appeared to be working Tuesday, with most conservative Republicans saying they did not blame Ryan for the shortcomings of the new agreement.
If so, then the old axiom about not fixing things that ain’t broke should apply. That makes this update a few minutes ago from Politico’s Jake Sherman more than curious:
BREAKING – PAUL RYAN will SUPPORT the budget deal today.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) October 28, 2015
After sharply criticizing how it came together, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan announced he would support the budget deal Wednesday.
“What I’ve heard from members over the last two weeks is a desire to wipe the slate clean, put in place a process that builds trust, and start focusing on big ideas,” Ryan said in a statement. “What has been produced will go a long way toward relieving the uncertainty hanging over us, and that’s why I intend to support it. It’s time for us to turn the page on the last few years and get to work on a bold agenda that we can take to the American people.”
Ryan will stand before his House Republican colleagues Wednesday morning in a closed election to be the next speaker of the House. He has assured his GOP colleagues that he would not cut deals in this manner, even going as far as saying the process “stinks.” In his statement Wednesday morning, he reiterated that if he’s elected speaker, “we will begin a conversation about how to approach these big issues – as a team – long before we reach these kinds of deadlines. We simply can’t keep doing business this way.”
So it’s good enough because it alleviates uncertainty? Well, maybe, but that may not be true in all instances. Ryan’s previous position kept his path to replace the deal’s author, John Boehner, as House Speaker secure enough with conservatives who oppose the deal. Had Ryan voted in opposition to the deal, it still would pass — Democrats will flood the zone to support it — while Ryan signaled in more concrete terms that he rejected both the process and the substance.
Instead, a vote in favor may result in blowing open the Speaker election once again:
Some conservative Republicans have said they would carefully watch how Ryan votes on this package. North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Freedom Caucus leader, called on all speaker candidates to oppose the bipartisan deal.
It’s a curious move at a curious moment, in service to a curious end. Ryan should have left well enough alone.