Time after time, House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to do anything meaningful that would rein in Donald Trump’s worst impulses.Evan Vucci / AP
This year concludes the same way it began: with a partial shutdown of the federal government. There is no doubt that President Donald Trump is primarily responsible for this shutdown – less than two weeks ago, during a nationally televised meeting in the Oval Office, he explicitly said so himself.
“If we don’t get what we want,” said Trump, “I will shut down the government. And I’ll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, [Sen. Chuck Schumer]… I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it … I will take the mantle of shutting down.”
Not a whole lot of wiggle room there: this is clearly a Trump Shutdown. But the president was bolstered by support from his allies in the House Republican Conference and their retiring leader, House Speaker Paul Ryan. While the Senate did its job and unanimously passed a continuing resolution that would have kept the government open and prevented the shutdown, Ryan refused to allow a vote on similar legislation, allowing the electorally-disgraced House Republican majority to create one last pointless budget crisis on its way out the door.
It’s a fitting end for a group that has been a budgetary disaster since the moment it first took control in 2011. Less than eight months into their tenure, House Republicans brought the United States to the brink of defaulting on our national debt for the first time in history, resulting in the government’s credit rating being downgraded from AAA to AA+. Two years later, they shut down the government for 16 days after President Obama refused to let them take the American people’s health care hostage. And for six years, instead of addressing the real drivers of our national debt, House Republicans forced reckless cuts to critical public investments that undermined the long-term health of our economy.
But it wasn’t until Republicans gained unified control of the U.S. House, Senate, and presidency in 2017 that the wheels really came off the wagon. The shutdown that began at midnight is the third shutdown this year. At no point in the last four decades has the federal government shut down thrice in one year, nor has it shut down even once during that period when one party had unified control of the federal government. That both happened in 2018 is a testament to the ineptitude of the Trump administration and its allies in the 115th Congress.
This is a particularly sorry end for Speaker Ryan himself. When Ryan’s predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner, announced his resignation in September 2015, he responsibly “cleaned out the barn” for his successor by allowing the House to vote on a bill that prevented another shutdown over the objections of his conference’s most extreme members. Had Speaker Ryan – who, less than two weeks from retirement, similarly has nothing to lose by defying the far right – simply put the Senate bill up for a vote, it almost certainly would have passed and landed on Trump’s desk. But instead, Ryan chose to aid and abet Trump’s latest tantrum by blocking a vote on a commonsense stopgap, creating yet another unnecessary crisis in 2018.
Perhaps nobody should be surprised. Time after time, Speaker Ryan has refused to do anything meaningful that would rein in Trump’s worst impulses. But it’s Ryan’s epic fiscal mismanagement that is particularly astonishing, given that he’s tried to brand himself as one of the most fiscally responsible members of Congress since before he became chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2011.
As soon as Ryan became Speaker and had real power to rein in deficits, he instead made them substantially worse. On this day last year, a massive tax cut spearheaded by Speaker Ryan was signed into law, which the official scorekeepers at the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office now estimate will add over $2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. Two months later, Ryan presided over the passage of unpaid-for legislation that spent more money on domestic programs than President Obama proposed in his final budget while also spending more money on Defense than was requested by President Trump.
The result: next year’s budget deficit will now be roughly $1 trillion – nearly 70% larger than the $596 billion deficit projected by CBO when Ryan ascended to the Speakership in 2015. Moreover, Speaker Ryan’s failure to tackle the nation’s long-term fiscal challenges means that the federal government will never again run an annual budget deficit of less than $1 trillion if current policies remain in place.
Thankfully, the American people decided they finally had enough of the GOP’s dismal leadership and ousted them from power in last month’s election. When the 116th Congress convenes, many of its members will be replaced by several dozen freshmen in the Democratic Caucus who campaigned on being far more responsible stewards of the federal budget – surely the new majority will vote to reopen the government immediately if the outgoing Congress does not. But one thing is crystal clear: it just wouldn’t have been a proper end for the House GOP without throwing one last tantrum before the adults get put back in charge.