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Paul Ryan’s Bad Idea

Speaker Paul Ryan and his House Republican conference have some really good ideas [1] about how to bring the system of checks and balances back to its regular equilibrium. For example: stop relying on omnibus measures to fund the federal government; pass more authorization bills, which keep executive-branch agencies accountable to the legislature; expedite lawsuits against the executive branch so the Supreme Court can consider them sooner; write bills in unambiguous terms so the executive branch cannot take advantage of loopholes; and give inspectors general more power to collect the information they need to conduct their investigations.

Unfortunately, they also recycle an idea that is so awful and destructive that it led to a three-week government shutdown in 2013 and nearly closed the Department of Homeland Security last year—tying the appropriations and budget process to the Republican legislative platform through “funding prohibitions, such as riders.” “Used strategically,” the report claims, “these mechanisms can advance Congress’s intent and reinforce its power of the purse.”

Translation: we should rely on a legislative tactic that has failed multiple times in the past and will likely fail in the future.

Republicans in the House don’t appear to have learned anything from their mistakes over the past three years. The three-week shutdown of the federal government over Obamacare, in which Republicans sought to defund the program in exchange for keeping the government open, resulted in a cataclysmic closing of doors, a loss of $24 billion [2] in the U.S. economy, and public-opinion polls that overwhelmingly blamed the GOP for putting ideology above good governance. The shutdown caused such angst around the country and such bad PR for Republicans on Capitol Hill that they eventually had to backtrack and settle for something far less [3] than what they were hoping to accomplish: a temporary resolution that kept Obamacare in place but tightened the rules.

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Fast-forward to February 2015. Congressional Republicans tried the very same strategy, threatening to shut down the Department of Homeland Security unless Obama’s executive actions on immigration were defunded. Republicans instead saw the same old movie again: the GOP backed down [4] after repeated Democratic filibusters and settled for a clean DHS appropriations bill.

Seven months later, House conservatives sought to mimic Ted Cruz’s Obamacare shutdown strategy on Planned Parenthood—an organization that pro-life conservatives despise with a passion. Twenty-eight House Republicans signed a letter [5] addressed to the Republican leadership outlining their opposition to any government funding bill that included revenue for the organization. Sensing the futility of causing yet another government shutdown—a shutdown that would likely decrease the GOP’s approval ratings further—then-Speaker John Boehner fought the move and reached out to House Democrats [6] to push a temporary funding measure through his chamber. Yet again, tying ideological riders to appropriations failed to result in anything significant.

The latest example of an unproductive rider occurred just this past April, when Sen. Tom Cotton tried to attach an amendment to the water-and-energy bill that would have prohibited [7] the Obama administration from buying excess heavy water from the Iranians through yet another defunding measure. Instead of succeeding in that goal, however, Cotton’s amendment did nothing but unnecessarily increase the amount of time that the Senate had to spend on a bill that is normally uncontroversial and bipartisan. After two additional weeks of partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats, Cotton’s amendment was eventually killed [8] in the chamber with the assistance of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

When taken together, all of this recent history leads to one inescapable conclusion: attaching riders to spending bills, as Speaker Ryan has advocated in his report, isn’t a good strategy for Republicans. Indeed, the practice has produced nothing but infighting in the GOP caucus, a dwindling approval rating [9] for Republicans in the eyes of the American people, and public embarrassment for the members of Congress who drew up the scheme in the first place. Without fail, these very same members had to backtrack and agree to solutions that were available long before they resorted to time-wasting and generally unsuccessful tactics.

And if using a rider to extract concessions was unsuccessful during midterm and non-election years, it’s difficult to see how the practice would be any more useful during one of the rhetorically bloody presidential election cycles in recent memory.

Daniel R. DePetris is an analyst at Wikistrat, Inc., a geostrategic consulting firm, and a freelance researcher. He has also written for CNN.com, Small Wars Journal, and the Diplomat.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Paul Ryan’s Bad Idea"

#1 Comment By icarusr On June 28, 2016 @ 4:05 am

On the positive side, he’s 1) honest, and 2) consistent.

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On June 28, 2016 @ 6:24 am

Rather than trying to work with Obama and negotiate tough deals, whereby the Republicans get more than Obama, they demonized him and shut down the Government. The GOP has ratcheted itself way too far to the Right, due to:

1. Chasing moderates (RINO’s) out of the party, which has resulted in a party that is way too far Right for most people.
2. Demonizing Obama such that there can be zero compromise with him, as he is the devil.
3. Allowing Religious Right kooks way too much say in the party, which turns off anybody with a triple digit IQ.

This is not my Republican Party. This is a party that fosters imbeciles who believe the earth is only 6,000 years old and kooks who want to violently overthrow the Government. No thanks.

#3 Comment By midtown On June 28, 2016 @ 7:17 am

If the President is unwilling to compromise on the topics in question, how is your strategy any different from simply rolling over and allowing the executive branch to write the budget?

#4 Comment By Glaivester On June 28, 2016 @ 10:18 am

how is your strategy any different from simply rolling over and allowing the executive branch to write the budget?

It isn’t. Ultimately, the consensus among the beautiful people is that t he Democrats can do whatever they want to get their way, but if the GOP tries anything, they are in the wrong. You can bet if the situation were reversed, and the GOP demanded a clean bill that did not defund something they wanted (say, a bigger border fence) the media would blame them and not the Democrats for any shutdown. And the American Conservative would go right along.

The three-week shutdown of the federal government over Obamacare… resulted in a cataclysmic closing of doors, a loss of $24 billion in the U.S. economy, and public-opinion polls that overwhelmingly blamed the GOP for putting ideology above good governance.

Which is why the Republicans did so poorly in the 2014 midterms.

The shutdown caused such angst around the country and such bad PR for Republicans on Capitol Hill that they eventually had to backtrack and settle for something far less than what they were hoping to accomplish: a temporary resolution that kept Obamacare in place but tightened the rules.

Which they would have totally gotten had they just asked the Democrats nicely. Sure.

Fast-forward to February 2015. Congressional Republicans tried the very same strategy, threatening to shut down the Department of Homeland Security unless Obama’s executive actions on immigration were defunded.

Except they were hell-bent on passing CRomnibus, taking out most of their leverage, and they didn’t message for squat. People were being killed by illegal aliens during the shutdown. The GOP should have put up their face on TV ads and said that Chuck “clean bill” Schumer had their blood on his hands.

#5 Comment By Tyro On June 28, 2016 @ 1:08 pm

Generally, the president has been willing to give the Republicans whatever they want in exchange for bending on issues that the president and the Democrats prioritize. But when the republicans refuse to cooperate unless they get everything, then the outcomes end up further to the left than they would otherwise.

In any case, look at it from Paul Ryan’s perspective: he is in a life-or-death struggle against the “takers” in America, who are his mortal enemies. For him, the lower and lower-middle classes are destroying the country for upper middle class people like him by brazenly having health insurance subsidies, food stamps, and SS survivor’s benefits, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of dollars each of them stole from his family in the form of low public university tuition. He knows that they need to be “put in their place” by the “makers” like himself, and in this case, it has to be done by any means necessary.

For him, Obamacare is the December 7th, 1941 when the makers were “suddenly and deliberately attacked” by unwashed hordes of people too poor to get insurance and determined to barge into your doctor’s office demanding to be treated without the social an economic credibly that he worked so hard to achieve. He knows they MUST be destroyed.

#6 Comment By midtown On June 28, 2016 @ 2:09 pm

Good points, Glaivester. Going back to actual authorization and appropriation bills should help this, as Obama will not be able to shut the entire government.

Another thing: the idea that $24 billion was “lost” or “removed from the U.S. economy” seems like poppycock. That money was still there, just not spent immediately. Perhaps they could say the velocity of money was slightly lessened. But money doesn’t evaporate. And if it was going to have been pulled from debt then so much the better.

#7 Comment By Ebenezer_Arvigenius On June 28, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

It isn’t. Ultimately, the consensus among the beautiful people is that t he Democrats can do whatever they want to get their way, but if the GOP tries anything, they are in the wrong.

Look, it’s quite simple. If you’re on a budget, you just do not order pizza. What you don’t do is, once the pizza is delivered, to shout into the room “guys, are we willing to pay” and when the answer is “no, we must be spending less” to slam the door in the face of the delivery guy.

Or in other words: the place for fiscal responsibility is during the drafting of laws, not in the budget process.

#8 Comment By ked_x On June 28, 2016 @ 4:21 pm

The conservative movement, unlike the liberal/progressive movement, has never learned that there is a difference between “what” and “how”. Even if people agree with “what” you want, if “how” you go about it is stupid, people will be turned off. Even if people think “what” you want is horrible, they may let you have it if “how” you go about it is innocuous enough.

#9 Comment By John On June 28, 2016 @ 4:33 pm

The key words are “used strategically.”

Of course, this is the party willing to see interest rates triple just to avoid giving Planned Parenthood money, though, so Paul Ryan might want to read this one out loud, slowly, in front of his whole caucus.

#10 Comment By cdugga On June 28, 2016 @ 7:31 pm

I understand the problem but at the same time take the republican establishment’s mission statements as what they actually intend to do. When they say the beast must be starved and do everything they can to keep revenue from government operations, you simply have to believe that the budget is in fact the GOP legislative platform. The GOP legislative platform is to block government from working by trying to starve it. GOP representatives say that and do what they say. It may not have worked, but it is still what they have run for office saying that they would do. It may be bad for the country. But it is still what they were elected to do. Of course we know that we want all the government services and entitlements that benefit us. We just don’t want to help pay for them. What republicans say and do is what we voted them in to do. Take care of me and my tribe. Let the others pay for it.
Starve the beast can work and has been working. Specifically it works by getting those representative that tell us we can have it all and not pay anything for it, re-elected. That works for them; why should they be concerned about trueth in representation. They know we’re not. We want the don for president so why would we be concerned about anything to do with trueth and responsibility. Over and over again we have not had to suffer the consequences that much since at the 11nth hour, like clockwork, we accept a budget requiring us to borrow more money to cover the shortfall from starving the beast. After awhile some of us just get tired of watching the dog chase its tail, and we can accept the fact that we get the results we deserve. It may all be a bad idea, but it is not as if we are going to take responsibility for it. And get this; when the government cannot borrow more from the future to operate, blame will be placed on the party that wanted to tax and spend. Not on the party that borrows and spends. The beast will have been starved. It won’t work anymore thereby proving that the GOP were right all along. Shut the thing down. Like, we don’t need an EPA anymore because they already cleaned up the air and water. We don’t need to make sure there is a safety net for those leaving the work force, we just need to make sure they keep working until they die. We don’t need to regulate much of anything since the market knows best and will take care of itself. Any destruction is creative destruction. Entitlements are what other undeserving people get. I deserve the check sent to me.

#11 Comment By kalendjay On June 28, 2016 @ 7:53 pm

A pathetic article,about as relevant to a blog called “The American Conservative” as nuclear physics is to QVC.

Following to the logical conclusion, none of Ryan’s “really good ideas” would ever be enacted, and certainly not by the GOP. You need a desire to subject politics to accountability, the will to enforce it, and political mechanics to execute it. Foremost among the mechanics are the ability to dump House members who behave badly toward voters.

The Cruz inspired ‘government shutdown’ deserves scrutiny here. The House allegedly kept as focused and ‘sequestered’ as can be, by simply disassociating Obamacare from other departmental manners. But the budget on all matters except for those of HHS did not go through. A budget ceiling and probationary 3-month budget renewal periods would have recast the budget over redirection of monies and day to day accounting of expenditures, rather than a cold-turkey shutdown.

But no such strategy took place, which otherwise would have put Pelosi-Reid on the defense over actual waste. the Administration’s ‘slush fund’ of reserve accounts not understood by the public could have been classified as ‘waste’, at least to beg the question how monies were managed in general.

In the final analysis, the GOP could have cut all programs to the bone and feigned a desire to protect our Social Security and AHCA monies from immediate bleeding. This would have anticipated Obama’s shutdown of the National Park System and other publicity stunts, as Democrat pork would have been shut down too.A process of cuts and tradeoffs on individual programs would have come. Remarkable how much better this would have been than sequestration, which got nary a howl of protest although everyone’s ox got gored.

Instead, we were treated to the spectacle of Cruz eating humble pie, pursuing a filibuster that could have been prevented by sincere Senate action, a cloture that the GOP could have prevented, and a poster child of “extremism” on the primary trail that essentially does not exist.

Democrats will fight to our deaths for every part of their agenda, including invidious funding of political groups like Planned Parenthood. By the logic of this article, there is no hope of debating, enacting or repealing any individual measure on its merits. Instead we have a heieratic, secretive, and self-protective cult called government, which will only change when a president and one Scotus appointee make it happen.

Sounds like we are already doomed.

#12 Comment By Myron Hudson On June 28, 2016 @ 8:04 pm

I agree with Ebenezer on this. Legislation and budgeting are two different things and as Daniel points out: When they have been conflated, things did not turn out very well at all.

#13 Comment By Glaivester On June 28, 2016 @ 9:29 pm

Or in other words: the place for fiscal responsibility is during the drafting of laws, not in the budget process.

I’m not talking about fiscal responsibility and the use of shutdown threats to extract spending cuts. I am talking about the use of policy riders to the budget and appropriations process to restrict the President policy-wise.

If the Democrats held the budget hostage to get a policy preference through (say, the DREAM Act) do you think the media would portray them as being the ones shutting the government down?

#14 Comment By cdugga On June 29, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

The necessity of employing hypotheticals to try and justify actual republican legislative policy, by always making the claim that, well, democrats do it too, or democrats would do it too, defines the GOP. Not only do 2 wrongs make the right, but we can now include 1 hypothetical democratic wrong and one actual republican wrong, make the right. And for all those suggesting that the GOP needs to change direction to remain pertinent, don’t hold your breath. To change direction is an admission that the direction we were going was wrong. If we admit to pursueing the wrong policy of starving government, then we have to accept responsibility for the consequences of trying to do so all these years. Aint gonna happen. Double down on trickle down etc. It is not that we cut revenue and starved the beast, it is that we did not cut taxes enough. The financial meltdown was not because we de-regulated and ignored the shadow market of derivatives. It happened because we try to regulate too much. The common thread in GOP policy strategy is we are not responsible. Somebody else is responsible, and if things don’t work out right it is just an example of creative destruction. God willing, god being the hypothetical free market deity. Whereby we come to the final arguement. That is, well democrats do it too, or hypothetically do it too. The dog still hasn’t caught its tail. Maybe it knows we will all get tired of watching long before it gets tired of running around in circles.

#15 Comment By The the On June 29, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

If the GOP was actually protecting American families then this would all be ok. But they clearly do not.

The GOP has an open borders policy, an imperialist policy, and a “corporations are people” policy. And that is about it. There really isn’t much of a difference between Paul Ryan and Hillary on the issues that matter: Trade, immigration, corporatism, imperialism.