Is Paul Ryan Delivering on Regular Order?
Josh Huder | April 13, 2016
When Paul Ryan accepted the nomination for the Speakership he promised his colleagues that he would deliver a more regular process. He promised more inclusion in developing strategy, more opportunities for amendments, and greater representation on panels that organize the chamber. So far he has delivered on some promises but continues to struggle on others. Unfortunately for the Speaker, his failures are more likely to get press than his successes.
Speaker Ryan has delivered in areas where he has clear control. As the de facto leader of the Rules Committee he’s clearly prioritized a more liberal amendment process. Bills are coming to the floor with more opportunities for rank-and-file to alter the language. Since January, Ryan has allowed amendments at nearly a 4-1 ratio of structured (i.e. some amendments) vs. closed (no amendments) rules. (data can be found on the Rules Committee website here) For those crying for a greater voice on legislation this has been a welcome development. It’s a clear break from Ryan’s predecessors in both parties and a step toward a more regular process, though it’s still a far cry from what was “regular” a few decades ago.
Ryan has also kept his promise in regards to internal Republican housekeeping. He reformed the Republican Steering Committee, which decides committee assignments and committee chairs. He did this by removing committee chairs, reducing his number of votes from five to four, and adding six new regional members. This lessens the power of the Speaker while opening a door for more conservative views.
Ryan has also been more inclusive in developing legislative strategy. In February he held a multi-hour beer and pizza summit with conservatives to discuss budget strategy. He’s held several other meetings with members to discuss priorities, party strategy, and other business. By all accounts, he’s opened the door to his office. Members may not agree with every decision he makes, but they can’t complain that he isn’t listening.
All of this is juxtaposed with possibly Ryan’s greatest shortcoming: delivering even something remotely regular in the budget and appropriations cycles. The Budget Committee reported a resolution several weeks ago but it is effectively dead. It doesn’t have the votes to pass on the floor. Ryan has been unable to corral defense hawks and conservatives to support a similar bill. That isn’t because of a lack of trying. Some unique plans have been floated to try and find the sweet spot between these Republican factions. However, those plans break basically every rule that has been considered “regular” in congressional history.
That’s left Ryan in a difficult spot. The House is destined to a definitively irregular budget process. Failure to pass a budget means the House is unlikely to pass appropriations bills. If conservatives remain committed to their version of the budget, Congress as a whole is unlikely to pass any of the 12 appropriations bills. This means the House is setting itself on a trajectory for either a continuing resolution (CR, funding the government at current rates) into 2017 or a shutdown heading into the election. The House’s inability to deliver a budget is a huge failure with potentially damning implications.
The reality is that Ryan can only deliver a regular process if his caucus wants one. And at this point in Ryan’s tenure it’s unclear that members who called for more regular order really want it. If they do, they don’t want it on budgetary matters. With only a few dozen legislative days left in this session Ryan’s track record is unlikely to change. The time to full return to regular order has come and passed. However, it’s noteworthy to keep in mind the areas where Ryan has delivered as well as those where he didn’t.