Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner addresses the chamber on Thursday.

Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner addresses the chamber on Thursday. Andrew Harnik/AP

Almost Nobody's Happy Even Though the House Acted on Budget Deal

A flurry of legislative activity marked John Boehner’s last week, but did anything really get resolved?

For weeks, the House was le­gis­lat­ively para­lyzed as con­ser­vat­ives battled the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment over the fu­ture of the party. This week, the House be­came un­stuck, and yet al­most no long-term work is fin­ished and al­most no one was left happy with the res­ults.

Speak­er John Boehner’s last week in of­fice saw a bizarre flurry of le­gis­lat­ive activ­ity on long-stalled is­sues: A re­new­al of the Ex­port-Im­port Bank’s charter passed over the ob­jec­tions of the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man, a bi­par­tis­an deal in­creas­ing the budget passed over the ob­jec­tions of the Budget Com­mit­tee chair­man, and a party lead­er was pushed in­to the speak­er­ship over his own ob­jec­tions, not to men­tion the ob­jec­tions of scores of hard-line Re­pub­lic­ans.

And yet, none of this re­solved the un­der­ly­ing de­bates that have split the party, but rather just put them off. And, para­dox­ic­ally, the main reas­on any of it moved was be­cause Boehner was on the cusp of resign­ing, es­sen­tially pushed out by the same forces he pushed out of the way to cut his fi­nal deal, a two-year budget agree­ment that passed the House Wed­nes­day without a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans.

Con­ser­vat­ives may have claimed his head, but the body let out a last kick.

“Well, the barn’s clean, isn’t it?” said Rep. Mick Mul­vaney, a House Free­dom Caucus mem­ber, para­phras­ing Boehner’s de­scrip­tion of his de­sire to clean house be­fore leav­ing. “John goes out the same way he was when I got here, which is vi­ol­at­ing the Hastert Rule and spend­ing more money.”

Re­pub­lic­an cent­rists, of course, see it much dif­fer­ently. Long frus­trated by the sty­mied le­gis­lat­ive pro­cess, they be­lieve con­ser­vat­ives boxed them­selves in, mak­ing de­mands for budget cuts and phas­ing out the Ex­port-Im­port Bank that could not ul­ti­mately hold.

“I would say it was a good week for those of us who want to gov­ern and a tough week for those who don’t,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, a lead­er in the cent­rist Tues­day Group.

Dent said Boehner’s exit was the only reas­on he and his col­leagues moved on a dis­charge pe­ti­tion, an ex­tremely rare le­gis­lat­ive man­euver that al­lowed mem­bers to wrestle the Ex-Im Bank from Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Chair­man Jeb Hensarling’s jur­is­dic­tion and put it on the House floor for a vote.

“This has been a very un­usu­al time, no ques­tion about it. Or­din­ar­ily, we wouldn’t do a dis­charge pe­ti­tion, but we got a hall pass,” Dent said. “When the speak­er de­cided he was go­ing to leave, that’s when the dis­charge pe­ti­tion was put in mo­tion. Many of us were get­ting tired of a minor­ity in the Re­pub­lic­an Party us­ing their po­s­i­tions to ob­struct im­port­ant bills from be­ing con­sidered.”

Still, even some who vote with lead­er­ship reg­u­larly would have liked to see an­oth­er out­come. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy and Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scal­ise both fa­vor do­ing away with the lend­ing in­sti­tu­tion. Rep. Dev­in Nunes said he would have liked to in­cre­ment­ally phase it out, and yet he is now left with little to show for it.

“As someone who wanted to get rid of the bank, I get noth­ing,” he said. “I think it shows a little bit of the prob­lem here is if you try to get all or noth­ing, you get noth­ing. People need to real­ize, with a Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ent, we need to stake out po­s­i­tions where we can make in­cre­ment­al im­prove­ment to the con­ser­vat­ive agenda.”

And while the House may have passed it, the is­sue is likely to re­sur­face as Con­gress looks at a mul­ti­year high­way reau­thor­iz­a­tion, giv­ing con­ser­vat­ives an­oth­er po­ten­tial chance to keep the bank shuttered.

Those who voted for the budget deal were left sim­il­arly un­ful­filled. To be sure, it averts what could be a dis­aster if the debt lim­it is not raised. But al­most every mem­ber in the end said it was an im­per­fect deal for which they had to hold their noses and vote “yea.”

“Some of the is­sues give me heart­burn, but we are mov­ing for­ward,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Bal­art said. “The Amer­ic­an people ex­pect us to gov­ern, and I think what you’re see­ing now is the House mov­ing for­ward, frankly, on big is­sues—im­per­fect, some­times ugly, but mov­ing for­ward based on con­ser­vat­ive prin­ciples.”

Still, more fights will come when the deal gets im­ple­men­ted: House ap­pro­pri­at­ors will have to craft a massive om­ni­bus bill by Dec. 11, which is sure to re­sur­rect the same pro­ced­ur­al ob­jec­tions the budget deal faced. The fisc­al year 2017 ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess, mean­while, will be full of the usu­al spend­ing-rider land mines, des­pite an agree­ment on a top-line num­ber.

The point of all this last-minute activ­ity for Boehner was to hand Ry­an a clean slate. Yet even if the next speak­er comes in with few­er dead­lines to meet, he has already earned some fresh sus­pi­cion from con­ser­vat­ives un­happy that he backed the budget deal. And now they’ll be watch­ing closely to see what oth­er com­prom­ises he might make.

Con­ser­vat­ives scored a vic­tory by block­ing the path for Mc­Carthy. They also ex­trac­ted prom­ises from Ry­an, like a pledge to en­act pro­ced­ur­al re­forms and not to al­low im­mig­ra­tion re­form to move for­ward without a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans in fa­vor.

But the can­did­ate they sought, Rep. Daniel Web­ster, lost hand­ily. Ry­an, mean­while, is a can­did­ate to whom they could not say no: someone with the cult of per­son­al­ity and con­ser­vat­ive bona fides to brush away ob­jec­tions as not cred­ible, but who not two years ago struck a deal al­most identic­al to Boehner’s budget deal and will most likely strike more.