early and often

John Boehner Unveils Plan to Avoid Default, Save Paul Ryan

Speaker of the House John Boehner
John Boehner heads into a House Republican Conference meeting on October 26, 2015. Photo: Al Drago/CQ Roll Call

John Boehner has said he wants to “clean the barn up” for the next Speaker of the House, and surprisingly, he may be able to make that happen before he retires at the end of the week. On Monday, Speaker Boehner, Senate leaders, and the White House revealed that they’ve reached a two-year budget agreement that would increase military and domestic spending in exchange for cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and raise the federal-debt limit. House Republicans introduced the bill just before midnight, setting up a vote for Wednesday.

If the deal comes to fruition, it will be a huge gift for Paul Ryan, who’s almost certain to be elected speaker later this week. With the government set to default on its debt on November 3 and a government shutdown looming on December 11, Ryan said he would only run for speaker if Republicans could meet certain conditions that he hoped would decrease the “constant leadership challenges and crises” in Congress. While a number of Freedom Caucus members refused, for some reason Ryan agreed to take the job anyway. That means Ryan is likely to face much of the same conservative opposition that Boehner did, but the deal could make the Wisconsin representative’s tenure less miserable. It would raise the debt ceiling through March 2017 and set government-funding levels through September 2017, pushing those issues aside until after another president takes office.

The deal involves an $80 billion spending increase over current budget caps in the next two years, split between military and domestic programs. That would be offset by cuts to various programs, including a reform of the Social Security Disability Insurance program and changes to Medicare payments to doctors and other health-care providers. It would also prevent an expected increase in out-of-pocket costs for the 52 million people enrolled in Medicare Part B.

The agreement appears to include compromises from each side, and would be the biggest budget breakthrough in years — but it left some conservatives fuming. While the spending increases would be paid for with new savings and revenue-raising measures, they want to see the spending caps from 2011 left in place. Several members said they do not intend to support the bill even before the full details had been released, and complained about the #zombiebudget on Twitter.

Boehner met with House Republicans to outline the agreement on Monday night, and according to Representative John Fleming, he was confronted for going around House committees. “I would say that we’re very skeptical at this point,” Fleming said, when asked if he’ll support the measure. “He threw the committee chairmen under the bus.”

Others complained that the GOP leadership made too many concessions to the White House, just because they were up against a deadline. “It’s another ‘govern by crisis’ deal that doesn’t reflect the will of the House but rather the will of the speaker,” said Representative Justin Amash, a Freedom Caucus member.

Ryan was not involved in the negotiations, and some conservatives complained that the future speaker should be doing the tidying up himself. Ryan has yet to comment on the deal, and Fleming said it “would be appreciated” if he explains where he stands before the speaker vote. “We would want [Ryan] to change the process, to make it more transparent, to let the committees do their work early, and to make sure that all members have the opportunity to weigh in early rather than find out when it’s too late,” Fleming said.

Representative Raúl Labrador, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, went even further, suggesting the House should scrap Boehner’s deal, pass a short-term measure, and leave the hard work for Ryan. “I think it would be a wise idea for us to just move forward and let Ryan start negotiating this stuff,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be doing this right now.” Congressional leaders believe the deal can pass without support from the most conservative members of the House, but the Freedom Caucus is clearly not going to help Boehner make things easy for his successor.

Boehner Plan Would Avoid Default, Save Ryan