On Thursday, Paul Ryan greeted a divided House that just elected him Speaker with a speech about coming together despite differences.
“We are wiping the slate clean,” Speaker Ryan said, acknowledging the recent dysfunction among Republicans that led to former Speaker John Boehner’s decision to retire.
This came a day after the House passed a budget and debt-limit agreement negotiated among Boehner, other Congressional leaders from both parties and President Obama. The main aspects of the deal are that it sets budget levels for the next two years, which includes raising caps put on spending for military and domestic spending, and eliminating the federal debt limit until March 2017.
The Senate still needs to pass the budget and debt limit agreement, which is expected to happen in the coming days.
While hailed as a breakthrough on the budget, a crucial detail remains: the agreement does not allocate money, it only sets an outline for spending. Congress must still pass what is known as an appropriations bill before December 11 in order to keep the government functioning.
House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers, R-Ky., sent out a statement upon passage of the budget deal in the House saying he is looking forward to the “essential and important work” of writing an appropriations bill before the deadline.
This deadline and the work that still remains could present the first major test for Speaker Ryan. In the past, for example, the most conservative elements in the House called on Boehner to use the power of the purse to stop President Obama’s deferred action on immigration or eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
Without action in the House and Senate to authorize new spending, the new budget agreement won’t amount to much. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is already warning Republicans against what he calls “vexatious riders” being added to the spending bill. In other words, using the appropriations process to eliminate or change programs.
Democrats express confidence they can block any riders. “House Democrats’ unity and the President gives us significant leverage in that discussion,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
There is no sign yet that rank-and-file Republicans will seek to use the funding bill to get policy concessions from Democrats. But that December 11 date will represent the first major deadline that Speaker Ryan must meet — and could reveal whether he will face the same discord in his party that sunk Speaker Boehner.