One of two things is true: either Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) doesn’t want the job of Speaker of the House, or he’s got a rather inflated opinion of himself.
How else to explain Ryan’s bizarre set of demands, issued on Tuesday night, that he says must be fulfilled in order for him to run for Speaker? Ryan has said that he will only run if he has pre-commitment from every faction within the Republican caucus for his Speakership, including the Freedom Caucus that was so instrumental in ousting John Boehner (R-OH) and preventing the Speakership of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). That’s all fine and dandy – everyone running would love to have unanimous support.
Ryan also wants a return to “regular order,” with all bills moving through committee before introduction on the floor, and he wants separate votes on appropriations bills, as opposed to governance through continuing resolution. That’s preferable to the continuing saga over raising the debt ceiling – although it depends on the funding bills Ryan attempts to bring to the floor.
The job of the Speaker of the House is to unify members of Congress behind conservatism; it is not the job of conservatives to unify behind the Speaker of the House in blanket fashion.
Then things get dicey.
Ryan has refused demands from the Freedom Caucus to give up some Speakership power in terms of committee appointments; the Freedom Caucus has wanted more power devolved to members after many members of the Caucus were targeted by Boehner in revenge for their opposition to him.
Ryan also wants someone else to do national campaigning for the Republican Party, an odd demand for the leading voice for Republicanism in the country; even Boehner did that part of the job well.
Finally, Ryan has demanded that the House dump a rule that would allow the Congressional equivalent of a motion of no confidence for the Speaker. That rule is called the Jefferson Rule, after its author, Thomas Jefferson. Naturally, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) has called that demand “entirely unreasonable.” That’s because it is. As Huelskamp says, “No other speaker I know of would ever have as much power as Paul Ryan asked for himself.”
This is wrongheaded in the extreme. Conservatives should not grant Ryan that sort of power simply in order to place him in the Speakership. Signing a procedural blank check to anyone, no matter how trustworthy they appear, is a recipe for disaster; holding the Speaker accountable should be an unbreakable rule for conservatives. The job of the Speaker of the House is to unify members of Congress behind conservatism; it is not the job of conservatives to unify behind the Speaker of the House in blanket fashion. No Congressperson should sign a blank check to any person in power, even someone of their own party – especially when the person in question is a backer of comprehensive immigration reform, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, and the auto bailouts, among other conservative heresies.
Newt Gingrich was an effective Speaker of the House because of the Contract with America: everyone knew the policies he wanted to pursue, and they trusted him to do so. Ryan wants an oral agreement that everyone will back him without any preconditions. That’s untenable, and he knows it – unless he simply thinks that people want him as Speaker so badly that they’ll overrule the better angels of their nature in their desperate for a figurehead.
If so, the Republicans in Congress deserve whatever they get, both from the new Speaker, and from their constituents back home.