NEW CASTLE, Pa., Nov. 2, 2015 – Paul Ryan’s ascent to the position of House speaker has been overshadowed by the relentless coverage of the 2016 presidential election. To put it in another way, how this country is run today matters less to the political world than who is going to run it tomorrow.
With the lame duck president in his final year and a budget deal relieving the new speaker of political pressure from any impeding government shutdown, little is likely to be accomplished over the next year. Given the intensity of the 2016 presidential election and extreme polarization, a prudent politician understands it is in his best interest to avoid policy initiatives that try to address the issues the U.S. desperately needs to solve, because critics will create controversy.
If Paul Ryan is more than just a politician, however, the story may be different. Tough talk and empty promises reigns supreme in Washington, but Ryan’s strong rhetoric could translate into action.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has already made it very clear that several Obama administration priorities, such as immigration reform, are off the table. Ryan justifies his unwillingness to cooperate on the immigration matter by saying the president acted unilaterally, ignoring the fact that the president circumvented the dysfunctional legislative branch, which was failing to its own job. This position suggests Ryan plans to continue the anti-Obama agenda of right-wing House members and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Ryan has been willing to spark controversy and commit political suicide in order to accomplish something big. A fiscally responsible budget has long been a top priority of Ryan. In 2011, he unveiled a budget that demonstrated exactly what a balanced right-wing budget would look like.
Despite the lack of political incentive to address America’s budgetary issues and ballooning national debt, Speaker Ryan’s personal interest in budget reform might be enough to make the issue a top priority. If he is a statesman instead of just a self-serving politician, he and President Obama could pass an important initiative.
It will require Ryan to represent more than his own caucus. He must be a leader to all member of the House, which is the actual job of the House speaker. He will have to be a speaker who addresses the views and interests of conservatives, moderates and liberals alike.
This is a solid opportunity for presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle to refocus the 2016 election onto critical policies. The national budget is one of this country’s most pressing issues, despite the lack of headlines it receives.
In opening the budget reform process, Ryan risks his own re-election and his party’s majority status in 2016. He also risks handing Democrats the entire legislative and executive branch. After all, the populist economic policies of Democrats tend to be far more appealing than those of the GOP. On the other hand, the national debt is a ticking time bomb.
America needs leadership, and Paul Ryan has promised to be a leader. The question is whether he is willing to put his country above his political allies, his party and himself.