“This is the legislative branch, and the power of the purse rests within the legislative branch, and we fully expect that we’re going to exercise that power.”
With these innocuous words on Tuesday, newly elected speaker of the house Paul Ryan may have signaled a shift in the way that the House of Representatives will approach several contentious issues, chief among them the budget of the federal government.
While President Obama recently signed a new federal government funding bill for the next two years—the last act of now former Speaker John Boehner was to secretly negotiate that funding bill— Congress still needs to detail funding for the various federal agencies, and so there is still the potential for a government shutdown if that does not happen by Dec. 11.
Prior to the election of Ryan, both Boehner and current Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had promised that they would not allow the federal government to shut down again, a promise which effectively undercut their negotiating power with the president. Indeed, they seem to live in fear of a government shutdown.
While the media made a big deal about the government shutting down in 2013—and President Obama successfully convinced many voters that it was a rare event which should serve as proof of Republicans’ inability to govern—this is not quite accurate. Every American presidential administration since Carter (except for that of George W. Bush) experienced at least one governmental shutdown, and so it is not at all an unprecedented or unnatural event.
McConnell and Boehner seemed quite rattled by the dire warnings of the mainstream media and the press blitz by the Obama Administration following the 2013 shutdown, though, and consequently felt like it would be an electoral disaster to allow it to happen again—ironic considering that Republican presidential candidates like Cruz and Carson have turned the shutdown into a rallying cry for their campaigns and are doing quite well in the polls at the moment.
However, as the statement above demonstrates, Ryan is making no such promises, and seems like he might actually be primed to dig his heels in and push back against the demands of the president. This is welcome news for conservatives like Boehner and McConnell as well, who refused to engage with Obama and instead chose to capitulate and live with the best bad deal they felt they could get rather than fight for an actual good deal.
Though, for many, Ryan looks like the turning of a page. Following the populist surge of the Tea Party and the subsequent widening of the split in the Republican Party between the true conservatives and the so-called establishment, many Republican voters—especially those at the grassroots—are looking for “fighters.” These are individuals who are elected not on promises of pork barrel policies for their home district or state, but rather on promises of halting government expansion, enacting conservative social policies and pushing back against what the Republican grassroots see as the creeping influence of liberal big government in many areas of life. It is this attitude of “being a fighter” that propelled individuals like Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee into the Senate, and it is the attitude that many Republican voters want to see in D.C.
Right now, it looks like Paul Ryan just might give it to them.