Yes, Ryan is Boehner on ‘Roids

Budget deal betrays conservatives and confirms new speaker's preference for big government

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 17 Dec 2015 at 12:11 PM

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled a massive spending bill laden with President Obama’s priorities and then girded himself for combat with the right flank of his own party.

This scenario characterized much of John Boehner’s tumultuous tenure as speaker. But it also describes the first attempt by his successor, Ryan, to pass a major spending bill. Once again, the Establishment is in charge and is not averse to ferrying the priorities of Obama safely to shore.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Like Boehner, the Wisconsin lawmaker and his team shoved all spending bills into one giant “omnibus” package and released it with little time for representatives to review it. The House is scheduled to vote Friday. Also like Boehner, Ryan will face opposition from conservatives.

“There is a reason that GOP voters are in open rebellion,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in a prepared statement. “They have come to believe that their party’s elites are not only uninterested in defending their interests but — as with this legislation, and fast-tracking the president’s international trade pact — openly hostile to them.”

It was supposed to be different.

When Ryan assumed the speaker’s gavel, he promised to move away from a budget process he described as a “crap sandwich.” But critics said the process and the result under Ryan closely resemble that of Boehner.

“This is business as usual,” said Josh Withrow, legislative affairs manager for FreedomWorks. “There’s not a whole lot to differentiate this from previous omnibus, goliath spending bills.”

Ryan told reporters Wednesday the $1.15-trillion spending bill will “advance Republican priorities.” It includes more money for defense, lifts a ban on U.S. oil exports and limits funds that can be spent to bail out insurance companies under Obamacare.

But there is plenty for conservatives to dislike. It provides the funds necessary to pay for Obama’s favorite priorities, from the Affordable Care Act to his immigration executive actions to Planned Parenthood to the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Here are the highlights:

It blows up spending restraint. In 2013, Obama and Congress agreed to spending caps, known in budget-speak as the “sequester,” that limited both defense and domestic discretionary spending. The package Ryan agreed to would spend an additional $80 billion over two years.

The bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget calculates that various business and individual tax breaks — some of which will go to people who do not earn enough to pay taxes — will cost $680 billion over 10 years. Including additional interest on the debt, the total cost is $830 billion.

“In terms of substance, this is a terrible bill that adds a dangerous amount to the debt and was done at the very last minute,” said the group’s president, Maya MacGuineas.

MacGuineas said many of the provisions have merit.

“What can’t be justified is refusing to pay for it and asking our kids to pay for it,” she said.

It fails to stop Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria by Sept. 30. House leaders patted themselves on the back for passing a bill last month requiring a more stringent screening process for refugees. But Obama is sure to veto it, and the provision is not included the spending package, which includes all of the money necessary to implement the settlement program.

It funds Obama’s immigration agenda. That includes 10 of 12 components of the executive action he announced in 2014 to scale back enforcement of immigration violations. Two provisions related to Obama’s plan to issue green cards to certain illegal immigrants remain tied up in court. But the other provisions are fully funded.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the bill does include additional money to beef up border enforcement and gives the Department of Homeland Security 30 days to submit a plan for implementing biometric entry and an existing system to address the problem of people who remain after their visas expire.

“A plan is not the same thing as actually doing it,” he said. “I don’t see anything there that compels action on the part of the executive.”

It funds Planned Parenthood. Conservatives made a big push to cut off funding for the abortion provider after a series of undercover videos showed its officials discussing financial compensation for fetal body parts. But the spending bill leaves funding intact. This comes even after the Senate voted earlier this month to cut off funds. Obama is certain to veto that bill. It also allows federal funds to continue to be used in California to support a requirement in that state that churches pay for abortions through their insurance plans.

The legislation also "fails to address a number of critical pro-life concerns namely churches being forced to directly pay for abortions through their insurance plans; and taxpayer funding of abortions through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as through the state exchanges," according to March for Life.

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