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POLITICS AND PROGRAMS: WHY THE NEXT SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE MATTERS

Nov 5

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Thursday, November 05, 2015  RssIcon

 “Last night I started thinking about this, and I woke up. I said my prayers as I always do, and I decided, you know, today’s the day I’m going to do this. As simple as that,” John Boehner, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
    On September 25, 2015, Congressman John Boehner announced he would be vacating the Speakership and retiring from Congress.  With those thirty-six mostly innocuous words, John Boehner set in motion a chain of events that shocked political pundits and the public alike.
    However, Speaker Boehner’s resignation was not surprising in itself, the writing had been on the wall.  
    Shock followed when his chief deputy, who was widely assumed to become the next Speaker, withdrew himself from consideration two weeks later.  
    Last month’s column (Groundhog Day) was premised on the assumption that major political players in Washington would remain unchanged.  The conclusion being that we have seen this budget battle before and we can almost certainly predict how the 2016 budget fight would end.  
    This development has the potential to not only disrupt, but turn those conclusions on their head.
    By the time you read this article, Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin may very well be the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.  
    Paul Ryan is a known commodity as the current Chairman of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means (which handles all appropriation matters of the federal government) and a former candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2012.  
    Ryan is a fiscally conservative policy wonk that believes in a balanced budget that includes major reforms to many entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.  
    Knowing where Ryan stands on substantive policy issues goes a long way in attempting to predict upcoming political battles.  
    For instance, many conservatives in the House want to extract concessions from President Obama and Democrats on spending and Planned Parenthood in order to raise the debt ceiling.  
    If Congress does not act sometime around November 3rd, the U.S. government will not be able to pay its bills for programs and services that were already authorized in previous budgets.  
    This would include important grant programs that ensure low-income children receive a quality education and law enforcement has the resources it needs to maintain public safety.  
    While Ryan will need to maneuver carefully to avoid the fate of John Boehner, given his position on fiscal policy, he is unlikely to put the creditworthiness of the United States in serious jeopardy.  
    This means the bulk of bargaining will likely happen around the 2016 budget, which must be addressed by December.
    It’s not only Ryan’s policy positions that will impact the 2016 budget battle, but his leadership approach and style as well.  
    Historically, the U.S. Constitution and its rules governing the House have made the role of Speaker an immensely powerful position.  The Speaker essentially dictates a top-down approach, solely determining the agenda for consideration of motions and legislative votes.  
    In other words, a bill that has support from 434 (note: there are 435 representatives in the House) members in the House will not be acted on if the Speaker so chooses.
    A Speaker can unilaterally put their foot down on certain matters and even prevent a budget from being passed, creating the accompanying uncertainty for grant programming.  
    Some Speakers have embraced the leadership philosophy of former Speaker Dennis Hastert, who implemented the “majority of the majority” rule.  This requires a majority of the political party in control of the chamber (currently Republicans) to be in favor of a proposal before it can reach a vote in the House.  
    However, the United States would not have reached budget compromises in the past three fiscal years had John Boehner used the same approach, as he often relied on Democrats to pass certain pieces of required legislation.
    Paul Ryan has a vision for a united Republican Party, and he ultimately must navigate the same fractious Republican Caucus that is sending John Boehner into retirement.  If he cannot achieve this goal, we may see more government shutdowns and a budget that is not settled until the spring.  
    Likewise, we will likely see long delays in the release of grant programs and potentially severe cuts when a budget is finally passed.  
    Ryan’s views on fiscal policy paints a picture of someone who is interested in a long-term plan.  
    Additional review of his role in previous budget accords unveils a politician who understands the importance of compromise, especially considering the potential of a Democratic filibuster in the Senate and with Obama maintaining Veto power as President.  
    This development may mean another extension is required come December to work out a long-term budget.  However,  it most likely indicates that we will have some certainty around the budget sooner rather than later.  
    The projected timeline for a 2016 budget and its impact on grant programs laid out in last month’s column remains unchanged.  
    This may lead some to inappropriately conclude that the role of the Speaker is irrelevant.  On the contrary, Paul Ryan’s assumed ascent to the Speakership is a critical reason why we are still likely to see a budget compromise ahead of the New Year.

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