Paul Ryan Keeps Falling Into the Same Trap

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- As I write this, there’s a good chance that House Republican leaders don’t have the votes for the farm bill, which happens to have no chance of passing the Senate. Yet it appears they are going to try to bring it to the floor on Friday. 

The story is a completely familiar one by now. The farm bill has to be renewed this year. Mainstream conservative Republicans in the House want to take the opportunity to make deep cuts to SNAP, the food stamp program (the farm bill contains both agricultural support programs and food assistance, a classic logrolling strategy that in less partisan times assured the votes of both rural and urban members of Congress). The spending cuts guarantee that no Democrats will support the bill. So what’s the problem? Predictably, the House Freedom Caucus is threatening to oppose it because the cuts aren’t deep enough, and because they want a vote on Trump’s immigration bill that would slash legal immigration totals. 

There’s nothing wrong with a faction using their clout to get better legislative outcomes. But that’s not what the Freedom Caucus radicals are doing. They may force a vote on the immigration measure they want, but it’s unlikely that restrictive plan can even win in the House, and it was already defeated soundly in the Senate anyway. Meanwhile, even the mainstream conservative food assistance cuts have little chance in the Senate. By making House passage difficult, they only hurt any leverage House Republicans might have in negotiations with the Senate. 

We’ve seen it over and over, most recently in the fiscal year funding bill, in which Democrats did very well despite having the minority in both chambers. The Freedom Caucus undermines any possibility of a united front for conservatives, and the result is either a less conservative bill or, as with health care, no bill at all. 

But don’t just blame the radicals. Speaker Paul Ryan knows that they’re going to be disruptive in the same way every time, and yet he falls into the same trap anyway. Ryan’s options aren’t great, but he’s been particularly ineffective at deploying any of them. 

Perhaps he’ll manage to get the farm bill through the House after all. Odds are, however, that they won’t really get this done until a lame duck session after the election, and that the results will be better for liberals than the raw partisan numbers would predict. 


1. Lindsay Mayka and Amy Erica Smith at Mischiefs of Faction on corruption and democracy in Latin America

2. At the Monkey Cage, Elizabeth Saunders speaks with  Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer about North Korea and the “Libya model.” 

3. Bridgett King on representation and poll workers. Interesting research. 

4. Dan Drezner on Trump, the U.S. and Europe

5. Jamelle Bouie is exactly correct on Trump’s “animal” comment

6. Philip Klein on the “animal” content.

7. I agree with Ed Kilgore on Mike Pence’s future – and about loaded statistics.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.