While some Republicans see Rep. Paul Ryan as the “last hope” to become House speaker and restore order to the fractured GOP congressional delegation, an influential faction of hard-liners is not convinced that he is conservative enough.
The movement to portray Ryan, R-Wis., as not far enough to the right began almost immediately after Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., dropped his candidacy and Ryan’s name was floated.
The struggle between House Republican pragmatists and the 35 to 40 hard-liners in the House Freedom Caucus is not about ideology; it’s about tactics. Ryan has not advocated using the scorched-earth tactics the hard right embraces, such as permitting a government shutdown or debt default in pursuit of advancing the conservative agenda.
“We have emasculated ourselves because we have pretty much conceded that we don’t have the power of the purse,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, which continues to support Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., for speaker.
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The hard-liners’ votes are necessary for anyone to become speaker, and they aren’t willing to get behind Ryan, or any other candidate, without promises not to short-circuit normal procedures to keep the government functioning, as John Boehner often did.
“I think he’s got to convince me and some other folks that if he were in charge that the place would be different,” Rep, Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., a Freedom Caucus member, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Ryan shares Boehner’s view that shutdowns and debt defaults are not the way to govern. One example of Ryan’s pragmatism occurred in 2013. After the government reopened, and as Republican hawks rebelled against automatic military spending cuts, Ryan pre-empted a second showdown by cutting a two-year budget deal with Democrats. The far-right erupted with cries of surrender and 62 House Republicans voted against the compromise because it raised spending. It passed anyway. Ryan also voted for Medicare Part D and the bank bailouts
Ryan’s budget proposals in the Obama era are beloved by many in the conservative movement, but his right-wing credentials were less than sterling a decade ago. Conservative radio host Erick Erickson mentioned numerous measures Ryan voted for that are loathed by the small-government right.
“While in Congress, he voted for No Child Left Behind, the Prescription Drug Benefit, TARP, caps on CEO pay, the AIG bill, the GM bailout, the debt ceiling, and now the fiscal cliff,” Erickson wrote. “In fact, Paul Ryan is one of less than a dozen Republican congressmen to have voted for every bailout to come before Congress.”
For the faction of the party that demands purity, these votes aren’t easily forgiven. “I love Paul, he’s one of the smartest guys here,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. “But back in 2008 there were a number of us that committed that we simply could not ever support a speaker who fought so hard to pass the Wall Street bailout.”
In the months after the Romney-Ryan ticket lost in 2012, many top Republicans warmed to immigration reform. Ryan was one of them. In 2013, he defended the Senate immigration bill against the right’s opposition, repeatedly arguing that a path to citizenship was “not amnesty.” He predicted (inaccurately) that the House would take up reform. Last year he said at an event hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that “it’s not a question of ‘if' we fix our broken immigration laws. It’s really a question of ‘when.’ ”