Paul Ryan's Embarrassing Debt Ceiling Vote

After Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided to put a clean debt ceiling bill up for a vote yesterday evening, he had a new challenge: finding enough Republican votes to go along with the Democrats to pass it.

Although Boehner doesn’t normally vote, he did this time. He then asked others in the Republican leadership to follow his lead.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) both did so, along with lead deputy whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).

He hoped some of his committee chairman would step up as well. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) all gave their support.

One name absent from that list: Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

Ryan’s vote against the debt ceiling bill was particularly disappointing.

In recent months, Ryan has transitioned from a stubborn ideologue to a pragmatic leader, most notably in his willingness to broker a budget deal that relaxed sequestration. Just yesterday, he criticised the vast majority in the Congress for looking to undo the changes to military pensions that were included in that budget agreement. (A bill undoing the cuts passed 326-90 in the House.) Despite facing numerous bipartisan opposition, Ryan has stuck by those cuts.

He also undoubtedly understands how catastrophic it would be for the United States to default. He understood that leadership was concerned about the bill passing and were looking for leaders in the House to vote for it.

In addition, raising the debt ceiling authorizes the spending that he personally negotiated in the Murray-Ryan budget. Ryan knows this isn’t new spending. It’s not a blank check. This just allows us to actually pay our bills.

For Ryan, this was likely all about politics. He may still have his eye on a 2016 presidential run (though I don’t think he does) and if not, he certainly will consider it in the future. If the deciding vote came down to him, I have no doubt that he would have voted in the affirmative. Once he realised he didn’t need to support the bill, he took the easy way out and opposed it.

This should be embarrassing for Ryan. For someone who prides himself as being serious, he voted for a possible U.S. default instead of authorizing spending that he personally negotiated. Sometimes, leaders need to take tough votes for the sake of their caucus and the country. Both the Republican Party and the United States needed yesterday’s bill to pass. That’s why Boehner, McCarthy and the 26 other Republicans voted for it. They knew it wouldn’t play well with their constituents, but they did it anyway.

Ryan should have been a part of that group.

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