New York Times (Editorial)
October 22, 2015
The conservative extremists of the Freedom Caucus showed their power when they drove Speaker John Boehner into retirement because they deemed him insufficiently dedicated to gutting government and willing to compromise on, say, avoiding a government shutdown. Whether their support now for Representative Paul Ryan, who has been lambasted by the right-wing talk-ocracy as too soft for the job, will improve his chances of long-term survival if he becomes speaker is hard to say. The unity of the fractious Republicans may not last that long.
“We have become the problem,” Mr. Ryan said this week amid the chaos created by the mere 40 or so hard-liners now running the show in a house of 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats. “I want us to become the solution.” Small wonder that Mr. Ryan’s primary demand for taking the job is a change in the rule that allows representatives to oust the speaker, a threat that was effectively used against Mr. Boehner.
If Mr. Ryan wins the office, he will soon be tested by Tea Party members who will demand his acquiescence to their hostage-taking agenda. Most immediately, there’s a possible federal default if Congress fails to renew the government’s borrowing authority by Nov. 3, then a December budget deadline for averting a government shutdown.
Mischief and questions abound. Will the Freedom Caucus yield to Mr. Ryan at critical moments of national consequence? Will he hand back the gavel if they don’t? If rebuffed by Republican zealots, would he dare to attempt compromise with Democrats on such major popular issues as immigration reform?
As a supposed congressional budget expert, Mr. Ryan has been a true conservative hard-liner. His ascension promises no great relief to citizens hoping for sparks of compromise in Washington. His assorted budget blueprints have been more demagogic than helpful for rational government.
In slashing federal spending and revenues, he would crimp Medicare into a voucher system, undermine Social Security with privatization, and abolish the corporate income, estate, and alternative minimum taxes. He proposed cutting $5 trillion in spending over a decade, severely harming Medicaid and food stamps while fattening the Pentagon budget. Oh yes, he would kill the Affordable Care Act that is now helping 16 million Americans.
On that record, Mr. Ryan could very well be the speaker that the Freedom Caucus, but not the nation, deserves. He showed real cunning in stating his conditions for agreeing to accept the office, but he will have to be even more crafty to survive their demands and ultimatums. It will be interesting to see if he can look beyond appeasing that caucus and focusing on the poisonous politics of House Republicans to finding solutions for the nation’s neglected problems.
“We need to move from being an opposition party to a proposition party,” he said optimistically. So far, the House Republicans have only managed to be the party of destruction.
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