Today on the Hill: Ryan Retirement Announcement Raises Questions for House GOP; Balanced Budget Amendment Due for Suspension Vote

Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to step down after this November’s midterms has continued to make waves after the Wisconsin Republican officially announced the move in a press conference yesterday. Citing his desire to spend more time with his family, the Speaker said he was leaving Congress in the hope that he had completed “my little part in history to set us on a better course.” In the near-term, however, Ryan’s retirement poses significant questions for House Republicans.

The first issue is whether rank-and-file Republicans will want Ryan to serve out the remainder of his term in the top spot of the lower chamber. While Ryan committed to “run through the tape” in his announcement yesterday, reports this morning suggest that some Republicans fear that Ryan’s lame duck status will impair his ability to strike deals and inevitably make the path for his successor more difficult. The second major looming question is who exactly his successor will be. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has current seniority — and he is the clear favorite — but a drawn out process could bring in other contenders, who will be jockeying for position ahead of this fall’s uncertain midterms. The wild card in that dynamic will be the House Freedom Caucus, who hold significant influence and essentially forced Ryan’s predecessor John Boehner out of the Speakership in 2015.

Floor action today in the House features only one measure, although it bears significant symbolic significance for Republicans. Lawmakers will hold a suspension vote — requiring a two-thirds majority to pass — on proposing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The move comes after large spending packages were passed in the December tax bill and last month’s fiscal 2018 omnibus, which rankled fiscal hawks wary of deficit spending. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in both chambers and ratification by three-quarters of state legislatures – a tremendously high hurdle that the measure is unlikely overcome.

The Senate is continuing its steady pace in confirming presidential nominees. Patrick Pizzella will face a final up-or-down vote today on his nomination to be Deputy Secretary of Labor, while a cloture vote is due to be held on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.