Boehner critic gives Ryan an A-plus on process as Congress nears spending deal

The ink is barely dry on a massive spending deal and tax extenders package headed for final approval this week. But a debate is already underway on Capitol Hill over how the agreements will impact Speaker Paul Ryan’s ability to win over restless conservatives in the House.

Congress will likely pass the end-of-year tax cuts and $1.1 trillion “omnibus” spending bill — which would fund most of the federal government through next September — tomorrow, handing Ryan a victory ahead of the holiday recess.

The Housed pass the $600 billion tax bill today, and is set to vote on the omnibus deal tomorrow. The Senate is slated to take up both measures tomorrow.

The spending bill still faces opposition from conservative lawmakers in both chambers, including members of the House Freedom Caucus who helped oust former Speaker John Boehner earlier this year. But one key conservative still praised Ryan for delivering on his promise to open up the negotiating process.

“I can tell you that I’ve had more meaningful conversations with the speaker and leadership in the last couple weeks than I think I’ve had in the past couple years,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who introduced a resolution to remove Boehner from office last July.

Meadow’s resolution didn’t pass, but it set the process in motion that led to Boehner’s decision to retire — a decision the Ohio Republican made after enduring years of criticism from conservative GOP lawmakers who blamed him for striking deals with Democrats and President Obama.

Compared to Boehner, “I would give [Ryan] an A-plus in trying to reach out to the rank-and-file,” Meadows said yesterday.

Other members of the House Freedom Caucus say it’s too early to tell how much things would change under Ryan, who still faces many of the same challenges Boehner did in controlling the House GOP caucus.

“Nothing has changed yet,” said Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, when asked if the process for developing big spending deals under Ryan was better than in past years.

Ryan himself said yesterday that he didn’t like cobbling together enormous spending bills at the last moment.

“I don’t think this is the way government should work,” Ryan told reporters, after selling the omnibus and tax extenders package to his conference. “We played the cards that we were dealt with as best as we possibly could.”

Congress must pass an omnibus bill now to avoid a shutdown because lawmakers failed to fund the government through a series of appropriations bills during the year. The last time Congress went through the regular appropriations process was in fiscal year 2006, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Whether or not conservatives are happy with Ryan has long-term implications for how smoothly the House can function moving forward. For now, Ryan will need to find enough votes to pass the omnibus.