Last week, Republican Paul Ryan was officially elected to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House of Representatives. It might not have been a job he initially wanted, but it definitely seems like he has a plan for his tenure near the top of Congress and the top of his party. Although he's been in the position less than a week, we've already gotten some clues about Paul Ryan's priorities as speaker — and they likely don't include immigration reform or defunding Planned Parenthood.
It shouldn't be surprising that Ryan is already talking about his agenda, particularly as it pertains to some big and buzz-worthy issues. When he announced that he would consider taking the position earlier in October, Ryan made it clear that if he won the position, he would use his platform to boldly lay out the Republican Party's agenda. "Our next speaker has to be a visionary one," he said in a statement announcing his intent to serve.
What might be surprising, though, is what his priorities actually are — or, perhaps more importantly, what they aren't. At a time when Republican presidential candidates are talking about immigration and Planned Parenthood left and right, Ryan doesn't seem too eager to push either of those issues forward.
In a string of TV appearances on Sunday morning, Ryan signaled that he wouldn't pursue any immigration reform until after the 2016 presidential election. He gave two reasons for his hesitancy: For one, he promised the conservative House Freedom Caucus that he wouldn't move forward with any changes to the current laws until after President Obama left office. Secondly, Ryan said he doesn't want to work with Obama on immigration. On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Ryan said, "I don't think we can trust the president on this issue."
It doesn't seem likely that the House will defund Planned Parenthood under Ryan's watch — but that doesn't necessarily make him a women's health hero. When it comes to Planned Parenthood, Ryan doesn't think defunding the organization is feasible, and therefore, he probably won't spend much time fighting about it. "I think we need to be very clear about what we can and cannot achieve and not set expectations that we know we can't reach given the constraints of the Constitution," he said about the issue of Planned Parenthood on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday morning.
Just because he doesn't see defunding Planned Parenthood in Congress' future, doesn't mean that Ryan wants to drop the issue altogether. "I don't think Planned Parenthood should get a red cent from the tax payer," he also said on State of the Union. "But I believe we need to do our oversight. We're just beginning to start a committee to investigate Planned Parenthood. That's important. So the special committee on Planned Parenthood, I think, should be in the driver's seat overseeing this process."
Paid Family Leave
Paid family leave seems to be another non-priority for Ryan. Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Ryan said, "I don't think people asked me to be speaker so I can take more money from hard-working taxpayers, so I can create some new federal entitlement." While not entirely unexpected, this does come as disappointing to many (particularly Democrats), considering that one of Ryan's conditions for accepting the speaker job was that time with his family has to come first.
In all honesty, these non-priorities probably shouldn't seem that shocking given Ryan's legislative background. He's never painted himself as a "social issues" politician. On the contrary, he has found his sweet spot in Congress to be economic policy, chairing both the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Budget Committee. He popularized his conservative budget plan among Republican legislators — officially called "The Path to Prosperity," the plan commonly became known as the Ryan Budget. Given this background, Ryan will likely focus on economic issues during his time as speaker — at least until the 2016 election.
No matter what he prioritizes in his agenda, Ryan seems truly committed to getting things done as speaker. During his CNN interview on Sunday, Ryan said that he would continue sleeping on a cot in his office while he stays in Washington, D.C. for work. It's what he has done since first going to Washington since 1999. "I just work here. I don't live here," he said. "I can actually get more work done by sleeping in my office."