Like two predatory animals circling each other, Republicans and Democrats are trying to sort out the meaning of last month’s election and plan strategies for the remaining days of the current Congress and the new one in which Republicans will hold majorities in both houses.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., soon to be chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, spoke with me about the election and his party’s strategy going forward.
“I think (voters) want to see government respect taxpayers again and respect (government’s) limits. And they don’t want to see an executive go unchecked … people want to see a rebalancing of power because they feel theirs is being sapped away.”
About the recurring threat of a government shutdown, if Republicans don’t go along with President Obama, Ryan says it’s an attempt to make Republicans “the villain in their morality play,” which “they get to draft and write. … They’re trying to get us to take the bait. … We avoid it by defeating them with better ideas. They will play identity politics; we will play aspirational, inspirational, unifying politics.”
There is a debate within conservative circles over whether the outgoing Congress should pass a continuing resolution to fund the government only until Republicans are in control of the Senate, or pass a funding bill through next September. Ryan says House Republicans will take a two-step approach he calls “CRomnibus,” a combination of a long-term omnibus spending bill and a shorter-term continuing resolution.
“We’re going to fund all the government except for the immigration stuff,” he says. “That will be the CR, kick it into next year when we'll have a better team on the field, and then formulate a plan how to deal with this issue. With CRomnibus (Democrats) can’t spend the next three months saying we’re trying to shut down the government.”
Ryan says he has received little word from the White House other than “we want to work with you” on whether President Obama will compromise on anything in spite of his post-election statements in which he said the message of the election was that voters want the parties to work together.
On immigration and the president’s recent executive order, which would allow 5 million illegal aliens to remain in the country, Ryan says House Republicans will pass a bill early in the new session to finish the fence along the southern border of the U.S. Republicans will attempt to sell the bill on the basis of the rule of law, rather than discrimination against immigrants. “I think there are a lot of Democrats who will vote for it,” he says. “I think the (Sen.) Joe Manchins (D-WV) of the world and the people who are coming up (for re-election) in 2016 (will also vote for it). I think we’ll pass the bill (in the Senate) with more than 60 votes.”
Ryan predicts the president is likely to sign it, if he thinks his veto might be overridden.
Ryan has recently been traveling the country with African-American conservative Robert Woodson, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, an organization dedicated, according to its website, “with helping residents of low-income neighborhoods address the problems of their communities.” Ryan thinks it’s possible for Republicans to win more than the single digit number of black votes they have been getting: “I’m learning (conservative) ideas are universal and are needed in struggling communities more than anywhere else … if we take these great ideas … and sell them in an ecumenical way, people like it. People are practicing and preaching (these ideas). They may not say it, (but) they are preaching and practicing personal responsibility, upward mobility, redemption, truth, honesty, courage.”
Ryan says Republicans need to show up in minority neighborhoods and ask what has voting for Democrats gotten them? It’s a good question.
Like most other potential presidential candidates, Ryan says he'll decide early next year whether to run in 2016. He sounds reluctant, given his young family. He says he has never been a seeker of high office, but if the office comes to him? Well, should opportunity knock, he just might open the door.
Mr. Thomas’ latest book, “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America,” is available in bookstores now. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.