Speaker Ryan waits in the wings, as clock ticks on debt limit

By Geof Koss, Hannah Northey | 10/26/2015 06:40 AM EDT

House Republicans may have found a new speaker, but the divided caucus has yet to figure out its plans for addressing the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department says must be raised in one week.

House Republicans may have found a new speaker, but the divided caucus has yet to figure out its plans for addressing the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department says must be raised in one week.

After weeks of insisting he didn’t want the job, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected to close out the week with the gavel in hand. The House GOP conference will vote for its speaker candidate in a closed-door meeting Wednesday. Ryan needs to win a majority vote from the 247-member caucus to secure the nomination and will likely receive at least 230 votes if not more now that most of the Freedom Caucus is on board with his bid.

The full House will then hold a floor vote for speaker Thursday, where Ryan is expected to prevail with a similar turnout from GOP lawmakers — ending the party’s leadership scramble.


The Washington Post reported yesterday that Ryan has chosen David Hoppe as his chief of staff. Hoppe is a lobbyist and former aide to the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), who himself was an early mentor to Ryan.

Without naming names, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) suggested on CBS’s "Face the Nation" yesterday that Ryan’s lone remaining challenger — Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) — may drop out of the race before Wednesday, clearing the way for a strong unity vote.

"We’re hopeful that 247 Republicans will vote for Mr. Ryan," said Nunes, a moderate who has been highly critical of the House Freedom Caucus.

Nunes said he was optimistic about Ryan’s potential to heal the infighting among Republicans in the lower chamber, pointing to the Ways and Means chairman’s long-standing conservative record.

"Well, if you go back and you look at what Paul Ryan stood for, he’s really the guy that has put solutions out on the table to solve these long-term problems like balancing the budget, fixing the tax code to grow the economy, coming up with real health care solutions," Nunes said. "It’s that history that is in his favor."

Echoing a sentiment of many Democrats, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) yesterday described Ryan as "somebody that we can work with."

But during his appearance on the CBS show, Schiff said Ryan will still face the same undercurrents that led to the decision by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to retire from Congress.

"And that is, as long as you have a very sizable number of GOP members that aren’t really interested in governing but more interested in tearing down, who won’t support things like increasing the debt ceiling that are necessary to avoid a default on our credit, he’s going to still have the same problems, structural problems, within his conference," Schiff said.

During an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," the head of one of the conservative groups that was a thorn in Boehner’s side offered a mixed review of Ryan’s potential as speaker.

Michael Needham of Heritage Action for America noted that Ryan has demonstrated conservative credentials, citing his 2006 push to overhaul Medicare premiums.

"Since that time, he’s done very little to join the debate between the conservative base and the special interests, the Chamber of Commerce, that run this party," Needham said. "He’s largely voted with John Boehner’s agenda. He’s largely done very little."

Asked by host Chris Wallace if Ryan will "be on a short leash," Needham responded that the reaction from conservatives will depend on the path he chooses as speaker.

"If Paul Ryan wants to put forward, and he’s one of the few people I think capable of putting forward a bold conservative reform agenda, he’s going to find that the Freedom Caucus and all of us who want to take the fight for the American people to Washington and to President Obama, and he’ll find that he has very, very strong support," Needham said. "If it’s going to be more of the same and more of the Chamber of Commerce, then I think not."

Ryan on Friday appeared to be gathering support among Freedom Caucus members ahead of next week’s vote on the chamber’s next speaker. Ryan last week announced he was running for the spot despite failing to attract a formal endorsement from the group.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the caucus who has so far withheld his support for Ryan, told reporters he’s waiting to find out if the Wisconsin congressman will back his list of 10 items he wants the next speaker to agree with in writing.

"I’m waiting; he’s met with our group; he’s given us several assurances," Brat said. "No group is trying to get [Ryan] to concede … we just want to hear his principles in general. I think he’s already said almost all 10 of mine. I think they’re out there in print."

But Ryan, should he become speaker, could face the pushback from the caucus when it comes to reaching a budget deal with the Obama administration. When asked how the hard-line group would respond to Ryan cutting a deal with the White House that would raise spending levels, Brat made clear he would stand opposed. "Raising the budget caps, I gotta think, would run into a lot of resistance, for me in particular," he said.

Other House Republicans outside the caucus also voiced support for Ryan ahead of the vote. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, said he believes there’s enough support in the lower chamber to get Ryan elected.

"I think he has the right attitude, the right perspective that the legislation is based on committees, it’s not being dictated from the top down," Whitfield said. "That’s why we haven’t had any meaningful conferences with the Senate on a major bill in forever; that process is broken, and we can’t continue to legislate with CRs and omnibus bills in Congress, or we’re never going to be able to address in any real ways problems addressing America."

On tap this week

This week’s biggest agenda item remains the debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says must be raised by Nov. 3 to avoid an unprecedented federal default.

House Republicans last week retreated from plans to move a bill (H.R. 692) that would have allowed the federal government to pay the principal and interest on publicly held debt, as well as Social Security payments, over concerns there was insufficient support within the caucus.

House Democrats, who on Friday reiterated their calls for a "clean" debt limit increase, insist they won’t negotiate on the matter (Greenwire, Oct. 23).

"Let me be clear," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Friday. "The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not negotiable. We want a clean bill in that respect."

Once the debt ceiling is raised, Pelosi said, Democrats "stand ready to cooperate, negotiate on keeping government open" past Dec. 11, when the current continuing resolution expires.

While Boehner is expected to eventually bring a clean debt bill to the House floor, the weekly schedule released by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) over the weekend was silent on the prospect.

However, the House will vote on a 30-day extension of transportation funding (H.R. 3819) as expected, given that the current authority expires Friday.

The Senate, meanwhile, will resume debate on cybersecurity legislation (S. 754) that aims to improve information sharing between the private and public sectors on cyberthreats. The issue has been percolating for years but has stalled over privacy and liability concerns, industry reluctance to hand the federal government powers over private networks, and shared jurisdiction on the issue across multiple congressional committees.

On Friday, a coalition of power-sector interests weighed in on a number of amendments to the bill that it opposes (Greenwire, Oct. 23).

This week may also mark the departure from Capitol Hill of Boehner, who set off the intraparty squabble last month when he announced his plan to retire on Oct. 30. Assuming Ryan ascends as speaker, Boehner is set to step down at the end of the week and end his decadeslong career in the House.

The Ohio Republican had said he might delay his departure after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) shocked Washington by dropping out of the speaker’s race earlier this month. McCarthy’s decision to opt out threw the party into chaos and threatened to prolong the race into November.

But with Ryan’s election, Boehner will likely stick to his original schedule, meaning that Friday could be his last day in Congress.

Reporter Daniel Bush contributed.