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Friday, 18 December 2015 14:34

Speaker Ryan and lessons learned from the shutdown of '13

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Oh what a difference two years and a new speaker of the House make.

It was a October of 2013 when the government began a disastrous two-week shutdown after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democrat-controlled Senate were unable to come to a temporary spending agreement.

The main obstacle at that time was the insistence by some of the most conservative Republicans that any bill include repeal of President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.

Senate Democrats, however, refused to take up the bill if it included extra policy riders.

In many ways the scenario was similar to what Congress had been facing leading up to today with a government funding deadline looming.

Republican conservatives have been demanding for weeks that the spending bill call for defunding Planned Parenthood as well as repealing Obamacare.

But the bills that passed the House Dec. 18 contained neither.

"It was the only way to avoid a filibuster in the Senate," House Speaker Paul Ryan said shortly after the House vote as he was about to return home to Janesville.

"We identified a better strategy for defunding Planned Parenthood. Putting it in the bill would have sent our efforts back. Instead we’ll pursue it through reconciliation."

The difference, Ryan says, is that he has convinced Congress that it’s time to get done what they can in a divided government.

"My goal was to get Congress functioning again," he said. "I’m very, very pleased with progress we’ve made in the past seven weeks."

Ryan reluctantly agreed to take the speaker’s gavel Oct. 29 after a tumultuous month that saw John Boehner resign and support for his chosen successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, fail to materialize.

Ryan secured agreements from the most conservative members of his party, known as the Freedom Caucus, that he only would take the job if they wouldn’t sabotage his efforts.

So far so good.

In previous interviews over the years, Ryan said he has stuck to his principles when siding with Republicans opposed to anything that might be seen as an Obama legislative victory.

This time, Ryan says he’s still sticking to his principles, it’s the strategy that has changed.

"I have a certain style and temperament to get things done without compromising principles, while finding common ground," Ryan said.

He’s stepped in to cut deals before, even during that era of Congressional gridlock.

Following the shutdown of 2013, Ryan, then the chairman of the House Budget Committee, hammered out a deal with his Senate counterpart, Democrat Patty Murray, to keep the government running.

Enough Republicans signed on to get Washington to avoid a shutdown, however it took a majority of Democrats to climb on board to make it happen.

Although Ryan Planned Parenthood and Obamacare aren’t in the bill, Ryan promised to bring them to a vote when Congress returns next year.

Here’s some of what is in the the $1.1 trillion spending plan.

The package -- actually a spending bill and a tax bill -- removed the decades old ban on exporting domestic oil. Will that lead to a jump in the price of gasoline at the pump now that U.S. can trade oil on the world market?

That’s yet to be seen, but that’s likely why oil companies were pushing it.

For generations, the United States was a net oil importer, so the ban was irrelevant, but since the invention of new techniques for extracting oil from hard to access shale, the United States has dramatically raised its oil production.

For workers, it’s not jobs -- they’re out there if you look -- it’s jobs that pay enough to cover rent, food, transportation and health insurance.

It’s also jobs that pay enough to send workers back to local stores to shop.

Although Ryan argues that certainty in the tax code will do a lot for the job market, the affect on workers is indirect.

The bills include $620 billion in tax breaks for businesses and low-income workers.

Companies will see an immediate tax savings. But will that funnel directly to employees to build certainty in the workforce? That likely will take more time.

Workers will find satisfaction that the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the American Opportunity credit for families with children in college all have been made permanent.

The gridlock of the past seven years sent the popularity of Congress to an all-time low, a stat with which Ryan is all-too familiar.

But with a small window before the 2016 presidential election, that might be changing.

Ryan says over the next year he’ll work methodically on the next budget and avoid omnibus budget bills like the one passed today.

He also said he’ll look for policy proposals that could pass a divided government.

It’s a good start, although plenty of voters are wondering why it took so long.

Dan Plutchak is the editor of CSI Media, publisher of the Janesville Messenger, Walworth County Sunday and the Stateline News. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., on Facebook.com/DanPlutchak or on Twitter @danplutchak

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