Paul Ryan may cap off his time as House speaker by shutting down part of the federal government, barring an unexpected breakthrough this week.
Such an exit by Ryan would stand in stark contrast to his predecessor, John Boehner. The previous GOP House speaker struck a budget deal at the end of his tenure in 2015 to avert a shutdown and extend the government’s borrowing limit.
Government funding expires Friday night for nine government departments and various independent agencies. Ryan and other House GOP leaders haven’t tried to pass a spending bill that meets President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall, nor have they proposed any alternative.
Senate Republicans also seem to be stumped. They met Monday night in an effort to find a solution to please Trump as well as Democrats who are willing to spend no more than $1.37 billion on border fencing, but admitted afterward they’d made no progress.
“It looks like it’s going to have to build for a few days before there’s a solution out there,” third-ranking Senate Republican John Thune of South Dakota.
If there’s a plan to avoid a shutdown, “whoever drew it up is keeping it to themselves,” said Senate Appropriations panel member John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.
‘Proud’ of Shutdown
The president said last week he would be “proud” to shut the government if it will force Democrats to give in to his demands. Thune said the ball “is kind of in his court.” Ryan has supported Trump’s demands for $5 billion but also has said a shutdown “makes no sense.”
With the speaker’s support, lawmakers made progress with spending bills in recent months. Six of 15 government departments — representing about three-fourths of the discretionary spending — are funded through Sept. 30, 2019, under legislation signed by Trump earlier this year.
A partial shutdown would hit agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice, and Interior. More than 420,000 federal employees would work without pay and more than 380,000 workers would be sent home.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in an email that funding 75 percent of the government marked “significant progress,” and that during the current lame-duck session Congress has passed a farm bill, an anti-sexual harassment bill and is moving toward passage of a criminal justice overhaul.
“By all objective measures, it’s been a remarkably productive year for bills being passed and signed into law,” Strong said. Boehner couldn’t be reached through a spokesman.
Boehner’s deal allowed Ryan of Wisconsin to begin his speakership in late 2015 focused on other issues. Boehner had declared he was going to “clean the barn” as a parting gift for the incoming speaker, resolving tough issues that could have tested Ryan early on.
“Thank God Boehner gave Ryan a clean slate going in,” said retiring Republican Dennis Ross of Florida.
Boehner — hounded out of the speaker’s office by his own party’s conservatives — pushed through a sweeping budget deal that ended threats of a government shutdown or debt default until 2017.
That measure passed 266 to 167 — with 187 Democrats providing most of the votes in favor, aided by 79 Republicans. On the same day, the House approved a three-week extension of federal transportation programs that gave Ryan more time on that, too.
But Ross said Ryan appears less inclined to clear the way for his successor, likely to be Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. Pushing a compromise would likely stir the ire of conservatives.
Boehner won the support of enough Republicans to pass the 2015 deal, brushing aside conservatives’ opposition. Ross said he isn’t sure Ryan could get as many Republicans to go along with Democrats on a spending bill now.
‘Missing in Action’
“Ryan simply doesn’t have that clout, or is choosing not to use it,” said Representative Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat. He said Ryan has been “missing in action much of the time” since his April announcement that he wasn’t running for re-election.
“He limps out of town a very diminished political figure, morally and legislatively,” said Connolly.
If Ryan agrees to a stopgap spending deal, without wall funding, some House conservatives said they won’t be happy.
Republican Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a leading Trump ally, said there’s no benefit to dropping the demand for $5 billion in wall funding. He said most Americans will support Trump “in making sure his campaign promises are fulfilled.”
Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker said it isn’t surprising that Boehner and Ryan would depart the speaker’s job in different ways — because they entered into it differently.
He said Boehner of Ohio fought to win the job, wanting it “very badly.” Boehner “cared deeply about making deals with a Democratic president and, like the good soldier that he was, was good at mopping up,” said Baker.
“Ryan never wanted the job,” said Baker, adding the that former GOP vice presidential candidate “was always more of a bean-counter than an institutionalist.”