By Robert Weiner and Brendan Agnew
In a speech before turning over the Speakership to Paul Ryan, outgoing speaker John Boehner said he was "clearing the barn." Accepting his election as Speaker, Congressman Ryan spoke of Congress's duty to "do the homework" on pressing policy issues, imploring elected officials to "get our act together" on behalf of everyday Americans.
He was right to accuse this Congress of gridlock and inaction. For all of his talk of "homework", however, he has offered little by way of positive policy, either in his speech or his proposed "Path to Prosperity" budget.
One of the more remarkable failures of this Congress is its inaction on infrastructure funding, a historically bipartisan issue. Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers assessed the nation's infrastructure, giving it a D+ rating. The report called for roughly $3.6 trillion in repairs and maintenance. The same report estimated that infrastructure issues like water main breaks and traffic delays could cost American firms $1.2 trillion in lost business over the next five years. Bridge and track collapses in the U.S. are becoming as commonplace as American travelers to Europe who are shocked when they ride on 200 MPH trains we do not have. Apparently American trains are now on the political third rail.
Infrastructure continues to be funded by a series of temporary stopgap measures, the most recent of which will expire in May if Congress fails to act.
Progress on immigration reform also screeched to a halt under this Congress. Representative Ryan has vowed to avoid comprehensive immigration reform -- he blinked on that while the Freedom Caucus blinked on his family time --meaning it is unlikely that this box on the legislative agenda will be checked in the coming year.
Paul Ryan is often praised for being a policy wonk, but if he sticks to his own budget proposal, it is likely that House Democrats, the Senate, and President Obama will balk, and Ryan and House Republicans will re-enter the world of gridlock. Slashing taxes for the rich, dismantling social programs and siphoning all of the federal government's social program and medical research resources towards military spending don't move Congress any closer to its lofty goals, or build House and Senate Democratic support needed to move a bill to the White House that President Obama will sign.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid did praise Ryan's Speakership potential because of his budget compromise skills in the Ryan-Murray budget, but Reid stated he would strongly oppose any cuts in Social Security and Medicare. It is unlikely that Reid and the Democrats would budge on this issue, should it come to debate. Ryan has proposed "bold" changes in entitlements--a foreboding action that Democrats will properly oppose if they are an alias for cuts.