House conservatives on Wednesday challenged Speaker Paul Ryan to fulfill his pledge to play offense in 2016, warning their leader that “the honeymoon” period of his tenure is over.
As House and Senate Republicans get set next week to lay out their goals for 2016 during a joint retreat, conservatives say they want Ryan, R-Wis., to act on legislation that contrasts with the policies President Barack Obama has implemented while in office.
“It is fundamentally unfair to judge the speakership of Paul Ryan over the last month or so, but as I have also said, the honeymoon is over,” said Rep. Raúl Labrador, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus.
“He needs to start putting up real conservative reform in the House and doing the things that are necessary to show the voters that he is a different speaker than John Boehner, because frankly, everything he has done so far is no different than what John Boehner would have done. I do think he [Ryan] has a year to make that up, and we all want to give him that opportunity.”
Labrador, R-Idaho, who was speaking at the monthly “Conversations with Conservatives” event on Capitol Hill, was referring to disappointment over how Ryan helped pass a budget deal that funds the government for a year and lifts previously prescribed caps on domestic spending.
Conservatives have mostly given Ryan a break because the spending levels in the bill, passed in the form of an all-in-one omnibus spending package, were negotiated by Boehner, the former speaker.
Now that Ryan has a clean slate and no impending shutdown threat this year, the speaker has emphasized how a return to regular order—where individual spending bills are passed far in advance of deadlines—allows Republicans to be more aggressive in pursuing policy.
“We have one job this year, and that’s to fund the government in a responsible, thoughtful, and constitutional manner,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. “If we are here next year having just passed an omnibus, that is an F-minus [for Ryan]. If we pass 12 appropriations bills and stand our ground and force the Senate to face these issues, that’s an A.”
Conservatives cheered a repeal vote of Obamacare Wednesday as a good first step, but they have a long list of action items.
“We need to show how we are different than the Democrats,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, the Freedom Caucus chairman. “Our voters want to see us actually put forth a bold tax reform plan that radically changes the code, put forward our alternative to Obamacare that shows how we should do a patient-centered model, put forward our welfare reform plan to help people trapped in the system. This is where the speaker has been very good, showing where we would take the country different than Obama.”
When Republicans convene next week in Baltimore for their annual policy retreat, each of those three issues will undoubtedly be a part of the agenda, although none of those proposed reforms has much chance at becoming law during Obama’s last year of office.
Other issues that may come up at the retreat include concerns over admitting Syrian refugees to the U.S., criminal justice reform, and whether to take up Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal before he leaves office.
While one conservative, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, told The Daily Signal the “train may have already left the station” on the refugee issue—since Republicans failed to address it in the must-pass spending bill—lawmakers seem optimistic about a breakthrough on criminal justice reform.
“I think we’ve got to fix some inherent problems in the current system,” said Huelskamp, R-Kan.
“Where does it it end up, and what does that mean? I don’t know. Are constituents talking to me about it? Not at all. But it’s something I think we can address.”
Taken together, Labrador suggested an unlikely model for Ryan to follow as he leads House Republicans into a new year: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
“Our party is really good about campaigning on conservative issues and giving conservative speeches, but when the rubber meets the road and it’s time to pass legislation and fight, they are unwilling to do that because they are afraid of their own shadow,” Labrador said.
“The question is, ‘Will Ryan just be a good speechmaker or a good policymaker?’ Look at what Nancy Pelosi did. Whatever you think about her, she instituted policies that she wanted that will probably be in place for long, long time. That’s what a leader of your party does. I haven’t seen a Republican leader know how to do it on our side.”