New Speaker for the US House of Representatives

Maanantaina, 2. marraskuuta 2015     0 kommentti(a)

In his remarks to the House on October 29 2015, the new Speaker of the House openly recognized that the House is “broken” and instead of solving the problems, the members “are adding to them”. He emphasized the role of both parties in the legislative process and in particular the role of the Committees in this process.

Paul Ryan (R-WI) was elected last week for the 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives after the previous Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) resigned. The Speaker of the House was elected by 236 members of the Republican Party (GOP) supporting, while 9 members of the party voted for Daniel Webster (R-FL) instead. Paul Ryan was first elected in the House in 1999. Before he became the speaker, he served as the chairman of the committee of Ways and Means – the oldest in the whole Congress – responsible for tax-writing in the House. He has previously served also as the chairman of the budget committee and was integral in concluding the bipartisan budget deal with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in 2013. In addition, Speaker Ryan was the running mate for GOP candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 US presidential elections. (See more details on Paul Ryan's webpage).

The Speaker of the House is a significant position in the United States. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution establishes it as follows:"The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers.” The first session of US Congress in 1789 chose its first speaker, Frederick A.C. Muhlenberger, and the tradition continues up until today. The Speaker of the House has several roles that can be looked from both the institutional and party perspective. He or she is not only the member of the majority party and the House, but also "the administrative chief of the House” and its presiding officer. (See more about the speaker's position here) The current majority leader of GOP in the House, however, is Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Recently, there have been a lot of debates about the coherence of the Republican Party. The 2009 appearance of the Tea Party movement has been one reason for these discussions. In addition, recently, the House freedom caucus (a GOP faction) has openly challenged the leadership of the party concerning the agenda. Because of their number (according to PEW research Center's interpretation 36 members of the House) they have a potential blocking position in the legislative process by denying the Republicans the ability to gather the majority of the House (218 representatives). However, the assumption of bipartisanship – of crossing the party-lines in regard to the legislative proposals – should not be forgotten.

The resignation of John Boehner can be seen as one example of the problematic of governing even in the majority position. There have been also other types of challenges concerning the party and its members. The member of the Republican party Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) filed a motion during the summer 2015 to "vacate the chair”, an effort to challenge John Boehner, the Speaker of the House at the time.

In his remarks to the House on October 29 2015, the new Speaker of the House openly recognized that the House is "broken” and instead of solving the problems, the members "are adding to them”. He emphasized the role of both parties in the legislative process and in particular the role of the Committees in this process. As Speaker Ryan stated: ”The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation. If you know the issue, you should write the bill. Open up the process. Let people participate. And they might change their tune. A neglected minority will gum up the works. A respected minority will work in good faith. Instead of trying to stop the majority, they might try to become the majority.” In short, Ryan reiterated the need to follow the regular order.

The new speaker will face numerous challenges. These include the very low approval rate of Congress (not that it would be a particularly new phenomenon), the next year's elections, and the partisan atmosphere in the US Congress – not to forget the different views within the Republican Party itself. However, there have been "successful” legislative measures, such as the Trade Promotion Authority and the bill giving the authority to Congress to review the Iran nuclear deal. Recently, there have been signs of bipartisanship, such as the budget legislation which was passed by both the House and the Senate last week. It remains to be seen what the major legislative achievements are during the divided government and the Republican majority in the Congress.

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The column is part of a series of FIIA columns on the US presidential elections.

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