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Tom Block: Paul Ryan, a true conservative who wants to govern, would be a good speaker

In my previous column, I wrote on the Republican conundrum of trying to put together a governing coalition within their own caucus after the far right forced John Boehner to give up his position as speaker. Then in a further victory for the far right wing of the House Republican caucus, they forced Boehner’s deputy, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, out of the race to be the new speaker.

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

Now they are looking for a new candidate and many are turning to Paul Ryan.  Why wouldn’t Congressman Ryan want to be speaker of the House, No. 2 in line to be president?  I believe the key number is 62, this is the number of Republicans, largely from the far right Freedom Caucus, who voted against the Ryan Murray Budget Agreement two years ago. Kevin McCarthy wasn’t able to get half the House, 218 members, to support his candidacy for speaker within the Republican conference.  To get to 218 you can only lose 28 votes.

For his signature accomplishment Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan lost 62 – a number that I am sure is very much stuck in his memory.

In full disclosure I have known Paul Ryan for 20 years, from the time when he was a 20-something congressional aide. Even back then he was exceptionally bright, a quick study and had a good sense of humor.

Paul Ryan truly loves the House, his job representing his Wisconsin constituents, and chairing the Ways and Means Committee. He is fond of his original political mentor, Congressman Jack Kemp. Kemp authored the tax cuts put in place during Ronald Reagan’s Presidency.  Now Paul chairs the key tax writing committee and can play a similar role in reforming the tax code.

But I am sure the number 62 haunts Ryan. He wants to legislate. He knows that our government is one of checks and balances, and that compromise comes with the territory. It is his desire to govern that persuaded him to author the budget compromise with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington).  

In the coming weeks, Congress needs to increase the debt ceiling, pass a budget for the new fiscal year, fund infrastructure paid for by the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund, deal with more than 50 tax provisions that have expired, with action needed by Dec. 31, and eventually act on the recently concluded Trans Pacific Partnership treaty.

Ryan doesn’t want to fight his own members on increasing the debt ceiling and the other critical issues. He would not want to see the U.S. Treasury missing payments to be the first “accomplishment” of his tenure as speaker. Ryan knows that a government shutdown with no alternative or compromise is not a winning strategy.  

In my view, Paul Ryan could be a very good speaker. He is a true conservative that the right wing demands, but he also wants to govern, he wants to be successful.  However, successfully governing with President Obama in the White House, and the compromise inherent in our system of checks and balances may pose an insurmountable obstacle in putting together a governing coalition within the Republican Caucus.

Tom Block is a public policy consultant who had a 21-year career with JP Morgan Chase where he served as head of government relations in New York City and created a Washington research product. He also created the bank’s EU Government Relations program and developed a new position as U.S. Government Policy Strategist focusing on how U.S. government policy impacts capital markets. He has an extensive government and banking background, has worked on political campaigns and as a speech writer. He is a family trustee of Bernheim Arboretum in Louisville and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from American University. He and his wife make their home in Kentucky. He is a regular contributor to KyForward. Contact him at tomblockct@aol.com.

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