How long does it take for the new House Speaker to break his promises? It depends on how long Congress is in recess. In this case, Paul Ryan (R-WI) started his job by leading a fairly quiet session for the first week of November. Dana Milbank wrote, “It was nice while it lasted.” I’m now at the place where I appreciate recesses because the GOP seems to cause less damage when they wandering around trying to look important rather than making stupid decisions.
While campaigning for the job that Ryan said he didn’t want, Ryan promised “regular order”: the House of Representatives would operate by deliberation rather than fiat, and the House members could amend and shape legislation. Ryan said, “The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation…. When we rush to pass bills, a lot of us do not understand we are not doing our job.”
After a week off, the members returned day before yesterday. Last night Ryan put a “rush job” onto a bill to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States. At 10:15 pm, House leaders presented a brand new piece of legislation, written during the day, to rewrite mandates for the U.S. refugees from Syria and Iraq. No hearings, no expert testimony, no consultation with any agencies, no committee action, no amendments, nothing. The vote is planned for tomorrow.
In his first address as speaker, Ryan said:
“The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. … We are supposed to study up and do the homework that [the people] cannot do. So when we do not follow regular order—when we rush to pass bills a lot of us do not understand– we are not doing our job. Only a fully functioning House can truly represent the people.”
H.R. 4038, the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act” (SAFE Act because the GOP loves to give things the opposite name of what they mean) may make people feel “safe” because of new vetting requirements. Yet current rules demand an 18-to-24 month rigorous examination of refugees to certify that they are not security threats. Is the new one better? No one knows because there have been no hearings. The new bureaucracy of the proposed SAFE Act , however, shuts down the refugee program for years. This from the party that hates federal intervention.
President Obama has promised to veto the bill, which would first need to survive the Senate, so the GOP “emergency” is simply to get push more Republicans into getting elected in 2016. Ryan refused to allow a vote on an alternative Syrian refugee bill.
Today House and Senate negotiators gathered together to somewhat harmoniously blend their versions of a transportation bill. The bill had cleared the House by a large majority during Ryan’s first week when he permitted over 100 amendments. Actually compromising on bills with amendments and hard work is exhausting, which may be why Ryan made the Syrian refugee bill the 45th “closed rule” of the year, establishing a record for the number of bills on the House floor without the possibility of amendment.
Ryan is following the leadership style of former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who resigned as of Halloween. Boehner’s promises of “regular order” also began with allowing over 100 amendments on a bill before he broke this promise of “openness.” Ryan made promises to get his job—such as refusing to work with the president on immigration reform—but his only vision was what he wouldn’t do. On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Ryan what the one thing he could accomplish in six months. Ryan detoured the question by talking about working families falling behind and the disaster of “Obamacare.”
One thing Ryan did accomplish: he gets to go home every weekend to be with his family instead of doing the Speaker’s job of fundraising and campaigning for GOP congressional candidates. Family values are important to Ryan unless they include paid child care, sick leave, and maternity/paternity care for people in the United States, one of just three countries–out of 185—without guaranteed paid maternity leave. Amanda Marcotte wrote that Ryan “sees a family life as a privilege for the elite, instead of a right for all.” Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, who expressed herself as a feminist in her book Lean In, praised Ryan for his desire to parent. Only the wealthy deserve such advantages as family time, according to the powerful.
Not every GOP House member was pleased with Ryan’s demands. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) compared Ryan to a maid applying for a job who says “I don’t clean windows, I don’t do floors, I don’t do beds, these are the hours I’ll work.” For many years, the Speaker was a prestigious job; now it’s comparable to being a “maid.”
Before the faux crisis of the Syrian refugees, the House had passed another partial repeal of The Affordable Care Act, but the Senate has had to shelve it because he may not be able to get even 51 necessary signatures. Of the 54 GOP Senators, three of them may refuse to vote against it because the House bill defunds Planned Parenthood, and other object because it doesn’t repeal the entire law. Even the House members who voted in favor of the bill are having buyers’ remorse because it repeals only six of the 419 provisions—1.4 percent of the law.
Next year, Congress will have less time to mess up: they’ve assigned themselves a two-day work week with only 111 days in session. That’s over $1,500 a day for all those GOP legislators who think that $15 an hour is too much for hard work. The GOP must become the “proposition” party; it’s not enough to be an opposition party, said the new speaker. He’s found his vision and “proposition” in trying to keep all desperate Syrian refugees out of the United States. And he may get the bill passed in two days, leaving him another 109 days to save the United States.
Ryan called the attacks in Paris “an act of war” and said that the annual National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday requires the president to have a plan to defeat ISIS. The U.S. Constitution requires Congress to authorize the president to engage in war, something that this Congress has avoided for over a year. If the House can put together a bill to stop Syrian refugees from coming into the country in less than a week, they have time to work on a plan of “war.”
In the past, the Speaker of the House of Representatives sometimes served all the people in the United States, not the GOP. It’s time to return to that practice. Ryan is right: the House is broken. And with Ryan at the helm, it’s still broken.