The Huffington Post and Politico recently reported by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is strongly considering resigning or retiring at the end of the current session of Congress, but that's not necessarily what I want to talk about.
First, here are the reports that you can make of what you will.
From the Huffington Post:
When the House Freedom Caucus gathered Monday night, members spent part of their meeting discussing a theory circulating on Capitol Hill and among the downtown Christmas parties that Ryan may believe he’s harpooned his personal white whale of tax reform and decide he’s finished.
“Is it a Boehner-meeting-the-pope moment?” one Freedom Caucus member rhetorically asked HuffPost, referring to Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner (R-Ohio), who hosted Pope Francis for a joint address to Congress in September 2015 and then announced his retirement the next morning.
More recently, over closely held conversations with his kitchen cabinet, Ryan’s preference has become clear: He would like to serve through Election Day 2018 and retire ahead of the next Congress. This would give Ryan a final legislative year to chase his second white whale, entitlement reform, while using his unrivaled fundraising prowess to help protect the House majority—all with the benefit of averting an ugly internecine power struggle during election season.
"Tax reform" or tax cuts for the rich is referenced here as Ryan"s "white whale," but it really isn't.
Any Republican could have pursued tax cuts for the rich and corporations. They always have and always will. The party appears poised to pass a sweeping tax cut bill for the richest Americans, but that doesn't make Paul Ryan special, it makes him a Republican.
No, Paul Ryan's white whale is the privatization of Medicare, the elimination of Medicaid as we know it, the privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the near-elimination of food stamps and other social assistance programs.
Those are Ryan's real goals as first outlined in his "Path to Prosperity" budget in 2011, and how many of them has he actually accomplished?
Tax cuts for the rich are the vehicle Ryan wants to use to facilitate the privatization of health care, but that ship has sailed. This Republican-controlled Congress has already rejected Ryan's plan to convert Medicaid into a block-grant program and subsequently cut it by nearly a trillion dollars, and that was before they lost a seat in the Senate to Doug Jones in Alabama.
Ryan may envision himself privatizing Medicare during his last year in office, but if the Senate would not vote to cut Medicaid during the first year of Trump's regime when the party has the most power, I don't see the Senate voting to privatize Medicare during an election year.
That leaves "welfare reform" or the pruning of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It's remotely possible Ryan could realize his dream of cutting those programs during his last year, but I think we all know those are low-hanging fruits compared to his desire to cut Medicaid and Medicare.
Following nearly 7 years of Ryan's reign, first as the House Budget Committee chairman and later as the Speaker of the House, the big picture of the federal budget is more or less the same as it was when he took over. The biggest change has been that federal spending has increased across virtually all departments with few exceptions.
The big picture hasn't changed because the government has been funded by a series of continuing resolutions ever since Republicans took partial and later full control of Congress. Even now the government is funded by a continuing resolutions that only lasts two goddamn weeks, expiring next Friday on December 22nd. Republicans are currently planning to fund the government with another continuing resolution that will expire in mid January.
They are literally funding the federal government for less than a month at a time. And why is that?
Because Paul Ryan's ideas are poison. And they're no longer just his ideas; they've become party orthodoxy that House Republicans in particular cannot let go of.
Ryan can pass virtually anything he wants in the House of Representatives, including the remaining pieces of his fantasy budget and "white whale," but the Senate is another story just as it has been since 2011 when he first began his crusade.
The truth is Ryan's ideas are not popular with the public and they never have been. He is not a secret poverty warrior. And he's not really a "wonk" as the beltway media has insisted for most of the past decade. Saying "the tax cut will pay for itself" does not make you look smart, it makes you look like an ideologue or an idiot.
To be fair, doing nothing is its own kind of doing something. Progress has stagnated under Ryan. There have been no major infrastructure projects. Deregulation has not spurred business. Government has not enabled more people to enter the middle class. And Ryan says we need "more babies," but he's done nothing to facilitate or encourage legal immigration.