Following weeks of speculation and indecision, the House of Representatives finally has a new Speaker of the House: Paul Ryan.
The Wisconsin representative has been at the center of several weeks of Congressional turmoil. Former Speaker John Boehner announced his retirement at the end of last month, opening a power vacuum no Republican wanted to fill.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy killed his own plans to become Speaker when it became clear some conservatives would make it impossible for him to get the necessary majority.
Republican leadership tapped Ryan as the GOP’s next best hope. At the time, however, he flat out declined the position. It took several weeks of encouragement from fellow members of Congress and capitulation to Ryan’s demands for family time before he finally agreed to submit his candidacy.
“It’s not clear why exactly he changed his mind, but he must believe he can play an important role in the political debate,” said Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of NC Policy Watch.
The 45-year-old health nut stands in sharp contrast to his predecessor, 65-year-old chain-smoking John Boehner of Ohio. Elected to the position in 2010 during the Tea Party's rise to power, Boehner has spent the past five years trying to unite an extremely divided Congress.
“I leave with no regrets,” he said in his farewell speech. “If anything, I leave as I started — just a regular guy humbled by the chance to do a big job.”
Ryan now faces the challenge of working with Congress, and, perhaps even more challenging: his divided party.
“It’s a great opportunity to stop all the partisanship that has damaged Congress in the last few years,” Fitzsimon said.
He said the new budget deal, which Ryan voted for, will lay a good foundation for the future.
“People won’t be threatened by retirement and the debt ceiling, and there can be more helpful discussion in Congress," he said.
Ryan was frank in his first speech to Congress, echoing many Americans by saying the House is broken.
“We’re not solving problems, we’re adding to them,” he said. “And I am not interested in laying blame. We’re wiping the slate clean. We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.”
Fitzsimon said he hopes Ryan’s time as Speaker will bring a change of pace to Congressional politics.
“Republicans in the House would rather shut down the government than have legitimate debate,” he said. “I hope Speaker Ryan will get us back to democracy instead of a circus.”
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