As House Republicans huddled Tuesday with Representative Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid gave the Wisconsinite something of a thumbs-up. Reid made the calculation that in the GOP’s current chaotic contest for Speaker of the House, Ryan was the best that Democrats could hope for.
“He appears to me to be reasonable,” Reid said to reporters. “I mean, look at some of the other people.”
Indeed, some of the “other people”—such as Representative “Taliban Dan” Webster of Florida, an acolyte of the disgraced, misogynist religious leader Bill Gothard—are pretty horrifying. But if Ryan’s the most “reasonable” the Republicans have to offer, they really do have an extremism problem. Because Paul Ryan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and former vice presidential candidate, is no moderate. In fact, were Ryan to win the speaker’s gavel, the Koch brothers’ control of Congress will be virtually complete.
In 2005, at a meeting of an Ayn Rand fan club known as the Atlas Society, Ryan voiced his contempt for Social Security, decrying it as a “collectivist system.”
His idea for reforming Medicare is to voucherize it, leaving seniors with a fixed amount to apply to their medical bills, regardless of individual circumstances.
Ryan is a no-exceptions anti-choicer, and an opponent of programs that help the poor, such as food stamps, whose funding he proposed cutting by $150 billion over the course of 10 years.
He’s such an anti-choice zealot he’s earned a 100-percent rating from National Right to Life, having cast votes for bills asserting that human life begins at fertilization, another based on false “fetal pain” science, and one that would apply 14th-Amendment protections to fetuses. One of these anti-choice bills, postulates Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, would theoretically allow a rapist to sue the woman he raped if she aborts a pregnancy produced by the crime.
In 2013, he did the bidding of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, threatening to shut down the federal government if the contraception mandate in Obamacare were allowed to stand.
Most of all, Paul Ryan, for all his Catholic schoolboy (I once watched him mansplain Catholic doctrine to Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus Fame), goody-two-shoes demeanor, is a liar of the pants-on-fire variety.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Ryan fabricated positions he ascribed to President Barack Obama. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he recast the $716 billion in Medicare savings budgeted into the Affordable Care Act as a cut to the Medicare program.
He even claimed that Obama had promised to keep open a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, and blamed the president for its closure. Never mind that Obama never made such a pledge and that the plant had closed during the presidency of George W. Bush.
At the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, he repeated a lie told by Eloise Anderson, an aide to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who said she had met a little boy who claimed that he’d rather bring his lunch to school in a brown paper bag than eat his subsidized school lunch—because the lunch from home proved somebody cared about him. (You can read the debunking here.)
And this is the man the Senate majority leader thinks Democrats have the best shot at working with.
The Republicans find themselves in their current pickle, you’ll recall, because John Boehner, the man who currently wields the gavel, failed to pass the ideological purity test concocted by the secretive House Freedom Caucus, whose complete membership list has yet to be revealed to the public. Guesses are that the Freedom Caucus numbers some 40 or so far-right members of Congress—enough to scuttle any outcome that fails to satisfy members’ every desire on critical votes such as that for House Speaker.
HFC members have less seniority on the whole than other Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center, so they want more power as rank-and-file members.
One thing Freedom Caucus members seem to revile is the kind of give-and-take demanded of this thing we call governance. The only good deal, in their eyes, is one that gives them absolutely everything they want. These are the people who would shut down the government in order to deprive low-income women of cancer screenings in Planned Parenthood clinics; they are the folks who now threaten the same rather than permit the government to borrow money to meet the financial obligations bestowed on it by Congress.
They never liked Boehner—too much of an old-style politician, the kind who make deals with the other side in order to pass legislation. Plus, they didn’t like the way he ran the House, enforcing discipline in ways that deprived the minority Freedom Caucus of the gargantuan importance its members believe to be its natural right.
They threatened a challenge to Boehner’s speakership, effectively forcing him out. They didn’t like Kevin McCarthy, either—the House majority leader who seemed poised to win the gavel, until he revealed the GOP's hand regarding the real reason for the Benghazi committee—to harm the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
In Tuesday night’s meeting with fellow Republicans, Ryan postured to suggest that he was open to accepting the speaker’s job, while making it difficult for the Freedom Caucus types to line up behind him. Included in his demands is that the rule the Caucus threatened to invoke to push out Boehner (a motion to vacate the chair) be done away with, which would serve to consolidate the speaker’s power—something it’s difficult to see the far-right types accepting.
But if rejected, Paul Ryan, inveterate liar, will get to pretend that he tried to be a hero.