Fake it ’til you make it, Jughead

The most popular guy in town — good looking and oblivious to what’s going on around him — won’t sacrifice his personal time for work, but his (Tea Party) friends know how to get him motivated. Despite not being known for having the same insatiable appetite, the Paul Ryan-Jughead resemblance is uncanny.

Ryan is 45 years old and in his 18th year in the House of Representatives. Ryan has been working on the Hill since 1992, first as a Congressional aide, then as a speechwriter for a conservative think tank and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp. If his name were Barack Obama, every one of his colleagues would say he has no “real-word experience” and is not ready to lead.  

The whole country just got its first look at Speaker Ryan, introducing President Obama at the State of the Union and sitting on his hands the rest of the night. Now the question is: Is he ready to lead? Of course not. Jughead has just convinced everyone he can eat more hot dogs than anyone else. 

That said, he has been able to fake his way to the Speaker’s chair, so maybe he can fake his way to a single, successful year with the gavel — before possibly making some grandiose exit as the savior of the Republican House majority. 

When Ryan became the only Republican member of the House who both establishment and Tea Party factions agree could be Speaker (after Kevin McCarthy’s epic date with the Speakership was cancelled on the way to pick her up), he brokered a deal that basically said, “If this doesn’t work out, it’s not my fault.”

Perhaps John Boehner would still be Speaker if he got to accept the job with the stipulation that “I’m here doing you all a favor.” He knew that it was going to be just as difficult to do both big and small things, and at times, just as difficult to work with his own members as with President Obama.

That said, initially everyone — Republicans, Tea Partiers, Democrats and the rest of America — should be optimistic that the young, most recent vice presidential candidate, behind which nearly all of the House majority rallied, would be the right person to get the gears of Congress moving again. And this may ultimately turn out to be the case. In his first two months, Ryan successfully presided over legislation to keep the government funded and a bill to fund the nation’s highways for the next five years — both bills that were carried down the field by leaders from both parties over several months, only for Ryan to push them in from the one-yard line.

A first indicator for how optimistic the country should be is the legislative calendar. The Speaker sets the calendar for the House, determining when they are in session. This should have been the first red flag on Boehner’s efficacy, as he implemented a system of two-weeks-in, one-week-at-home. No, this is not how it has always been done. Most recently, Nancy Pelosi was a Speaker who actually worked, and worked to make sure Congress “worked.” The argument Boehner made is that members should be working while they are home, primarily serving their constituents.The problem, however, is that it literally meant that they did not have enough time to do the business of the House — governing. It may seem like all Congress does is show up, talk on C-Span and vote. The truth is that members of Congress sit on at least one committee and as many as three, as well as subcommittees; they attend hearings, bill mark-ups and committee votes; host a full schedule of meetings with groups, from school kids to lobbyists; maintain constituent services; and then they debate and vote on bills. So when your work week starts either Monday or Tuesday night — when they vote to “open the House” — and ends three days later — early enough so everyone can catch their flight home — the schedule simply does not allow for Congress to operate (and that is before you even get into the time spent fundraising). 

So, a young Speaker Jughead would want to work a full schedule right? After all he did promise to restore the House to a functioning, “regular order.” Of course not. While it is probably not due to Jughead’s (comedic) laziness — Ryan is notorious for being a gym rat — Ryan’s calendar is even worse than his predecessor’s! (To be fair, it is an election year, so most Congresses will allow for an extra week or two for campaigning.) Consider this, after July 15, Congress will be working a grand total of 33 days; 33 days in five and a half months! And it gets worse. When you consider the half-days — showing up Monday night at 6:30 p.m. and leaving before 3 p.m. on the fourth day of business — Congress is only scheduled to work 17 full days from mid-July to the end of the year. 

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So when people criticize Congress’ ability to function, the reality is the Republican-controlled House is not even trying. 

Two distinct possibilities for this include, first, the conservative premise that government can’t work, so the less they try, the bett.er. Second, a much more nefarious, although not far-fetched, conspiracy theory that they want the sand in the Obama hourglass to run out as quickly as possible, with minimal possible impact. In other words, truly do as little as possible and hope to retake the White House in 2016.

The other main indication that dysfunction will be the same unwelcome, beard-covered “present” in the punchbowl, is that Ryan’s stated purpose for this entire year is to demonstrate a conservative agenda on which his party can run come election season. For starters, what better way to ring in the New Year than with another vote to repeal Obamacare? After all,  he has promised that this is going to be the year Republicans finally come up with an alternative! Obamacare was only debated publicly for thousands of committee hours and hundreds of town halls seven years ago. The other groundbreaking legislation Ryan plans to introduce would defund Planned Parenthood. So, basically two pieces of legislation that have zero chance of being signed into law headline the 2016 agenda. Right, because they are so flush with time, they should feel free to waste it on campaigning. 

The difference between Jughead and his predecessor, however, is that Boehner knew what he had to deal with, and Ryan is just the jock, frat-guy who likes to look and sound like the smartest man in the room. Back in December Ryan said, Republicans’ responsibility is to “show what we would do, what our ideal policy would be — looking forward to 2017 and beyond. We owe it to the country to offer a bold, pro-growth agenda. And that is what we are going to do.” No, Jughead, what you need to do is show up to work; act on gun legislation if you don’t like the President’s executive action; authorize mental health research funding; concoct an alternative to Obamacare; just do something to earn your $223,500 salary! (Regular members’ salary is $174,000.) 

Esquire recently called Ryan the “Biggest Fake in American Politics.” It is difficult to see how someone becomes Speaker when his greatest legislative achievement never passed and was even disavowed by his party’s leader, presidential candidate and running mate Mitt Romney. What then-chairman-of-the-budget-committee Ryan offered, pleasantly presented as “The Path to Prosperity” was as superficial as Jughead taking a girl out for pizza … he just wanted the pizza. 

The Path to Prosperity (aka the Ryan Plan) was supposed to balance the budget by cutting half of discretionary spending, while providing across-the-board tax cuts, repealing the Affordable Care Act, privatizing a portion of Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher program, as well as assuming a massive 5.2 percent growth in GDP. Ryan was appropriately lauded for his efforts to engineer an alternative budget to the president’s proposal. The problem is that he did not understand some of the fundamentals, and considerations, of his own plan. For instance, his proposal repealed Obamacare, but kept all of the taxes and Medicare savings that would be realized from Obamacare itself — as much as $2 trillion. 

Another glaring example of Jughead’s failure to understand his own proposal, is in his Medicare proposal. Without diving into the specific legislative problems, but simply sticking to his misunderstanding of the very definition of “voucher,” in a Q&A on his own Budget Committee’s website (apparently from last year), Ryan tried to explain that his proposal does not amount to “vouchers.” He explained, “[Future recipients] will be able to choose the kind of coverage that best suits their needs from a list of plans. … Medicare would then provide a payment to subsidize the cost of the plan. This is not a voucher. It is a payment that goes to whatever plan recipients choose.”

No Jughead, that is a voucher. And your Path to Prosperity was nothing more than a vain effort to demonstrate the intelligence and courage of the Republican “Young Guns,” when all you did was put lipstick on the same pig. 

Again, change in leadership should always start with optimism, the promise of the unknown. But this new puppy learned all its tricks from old dogs, and all evidence so far points to more of the same. Ryan will survive. He’ll probably convince his caucus that they have to play ball through the election, and then he will be the conservative leader they elected … starting next year! So just collect your checks this year, no reason to do anything while Obama is still in the White House. Fake it ’til you make it, Jughead.

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