Paul Ryan Warns of a Showdown With White House Over Spending
New House Speaker Paul Ryan struck a confrontational stance with the Obama administration Tuesday, setting the stage for showdowns over domestic spending and national security matters as Congress works to wrap up business for the year.
Mr. Ryan, speaking at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting, said a spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown in December must include Republican policy measures, injecting fresh drama into the year’s final budget fight.
He also forcefully warned President Barack Obama against using executive action to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its detainees to the U.S.
The Wisconsin Republican didn’t explicitly suggest government operations could lapse when funding expires on Dec. 11, but he didn’t rule out such a possibility. He said Republicans will force Mr. Obama to accept some conservative provisions, known as “riders,” in the sweeping spending bill.
“There will have to be some riders in this for us to be able to pass it through Congress,” Mr. Ryan said, noting that Republicans are looking to curb some of the administration’s regulations. “There are a number of regulations being churned out of this administration that we think are killing jobs.”
Mr. Ryan’s comments signaled his eagerness to take an assertive position with congressional Democrats and Mr. Obama. He was elected speaker last month in the wake of discontent among conservatives who thought the tactics of his predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), failed to force the president to capitulate to the GOP-controlled Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has struck a different tone, saying since Republicans won re-election of the Senate last year the government wouldn’t close under their watch.
Two years ago, a GOP push to curtail the Affordable Care Act led to a 16-day government shutdown that rattled financial markets and exposed deep divisions within Republican ranks. Polls at the time showed Republicans shouldered the brunt of blame from the public, though the party regained control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections and expanded its House majority.
Mr. Ryan’s stance injects suspense into the passage of spending legislation, which already includes agreed upon overall funding levels. Congress late last month reached a deal with the White House boosting spending by $80 billion during the next two years and increasing the federal government’s borrowing limit until mid-March 2017.
But lawmakers must still pass detailed spending bills parceling the funding to different portions of the government. Most of the 12 spending measures needed to fund the government each year are likely to be bundled together into a package called the “omnibus.”
The White House reiterated its position that Republicans should keep partisan policy measures out of the spending bill.
“If they include those kinds of provisions in the appropriations bills they’re going to find that they’re not actually going to pass,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said earlier this month.
The Obama administration has resisted Republican efforts to force their policy priorities through the budget process, using veto threats and bare-knuckle negotiating to counter GOP pressure. However, some policies opposed by Democrats were included in a spending bill last December.
Democrats said they would oppose GOP efforts to use the legislation to demand ideological policy changes.
“Republicans must prioritize keeping the government open over their laundry list of special interest riders,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) “Another Republican government shutdown must be avoided.”
Republicans have said the spending bill could be used as leverage to extract policy concessions from the White House, including measures to roll back environmental or financial regulations or curb operations of government agencies.
Some conservatives have pushed to use the bill to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. GOP leaders also are looking to stop admitting Syrian refugees to the U.S. in response to Islamic State attacks on Paris in a policy debate that could spill into the year-end spending measure.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Tuesday that Congress has made progress divvying up the funding and lawmakers are negotiating over what other policy provisions will be included in the bill. “On riders, we are just beginning the process, so there is no yes or no on anything at this stage,” he said.
Mr. Ryan also warned Mr. Obama against using executive action to close the Guantanamo facility and transfer detainees to the U.S.
Although some Democrats and Republicans back Mr. Obama’s push to close the prison, the president doesn’t have enough support on Capitol Hill to pass legislation shuttering it.
Both chambers recently passed the annual defense policy bill, which continues a ban on transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. through 2016.
“The president would be exceeding his authority,” if he sought to close the prison unilaterally, Mr. Ryan said, emphasizing that House Republicans would use “every means at our disposal,” possibly including a lawsuit, to block an executive action.
Republicans have challenged Mr. Obama in court over other policies, including health care and immigration.
“Congress writes laws. The president does not write laws,” Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Obama plans to send a revised proposal concerning the prison to Congress in coming days.
The president has called the Guantanamo Bay facility a national-security threat and a recruitment tool for terrorists. He has sought to close the prison since he campaigned for the White House in 2008.