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Can Paul Ryan Keep the Manure Out of the House Barn?

Ryan walks through Statuary Hall to Boehner's office on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Ryan walks through Statuary Hall to Boehner's office on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 7:10 p.m. | Rep. Paul D. Ryan may agree with his conservative colleagues about the way the budget deal was cooked up — it “stinks,” he told NBC News — but its passage sets the speaker-in-waiting up to tackle the multitude of challenges ahead.  

The budget agreement should give the new speaker some breathing space to foster an environment of empowering committees and members, at least until the beginning of December. But the fact that Boehner, in his final news conference as speaker, agreed with the Wisconsin Republican that the process of arriving at the two-year budget agreement and debt limit increase was broken illustrates just how challenging Ryan’s new assignment really is.  

“I’m in full agreement,” Boehner said. “It stinks. … It certainly is not the process I would want, but remember what the alternative was: The alternative was a clean debt ceiling or default on our debt.”  

Concerns about the budget deal’s score from the Congressional Budget Office and frustration from farm state lawmakers about crop insurance delayed the bill’s progress late Tuesday.  

Still, the deal appears likely to pass the House. The GOP support starts with what Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., identified on C-SPAN as the 70 to 100 in the “governing” caucus who are expected to vote with the leadership on agreements like this. The wildcards are the 70 to 90 members in the “vote ‘no,’ hope ‘yes’ crowd,” whom Cole asked to step up.  

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said he didn’t think Ryan was involved in negotiations of the substance of this budget deal and debt ceiling increase. Still, conservatives are voicing their disapproval and watching Ryan closely ahead of Wednesday’s conference vote to nominate a speaker candidate. For some, Ryan’s opposition to the process might not be enough.  

“Anyone who supports this legislation is complicit in supporting ‘the way things are’ in Washington,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a member of the House Freedom Caucus, who filed the measure to vacate the chair that sped up the timeline for Boehner’s departure plan.  

House Republicans told CQ Roll Call it was a no-brainer how to fix the process to prevent a repeat of the kind of deal with which they’ve been jammed.  

“Start early,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. “Do the most important business first … get the appropriations bills done early, get them out by April. Then the American people will become your advocates for the Senate, and the Senate gets belittled by the American people and they have to look them in the eye every time they come home.”  

Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., agreed, saying major legislation such as this can’t “fester until they get to a crisis point.”  

“You gotta do the hard work up front,” Price said. “I mean, the timing of this debt challenge that we have right now was known the moment the previous bill was passed in February ’14, so we knew we would be here a year and a half ago.”  

Price is confident Ryan is the right person to lead the conference in solving the procedural issues that frustrate so many members.  

“I’ve worked with him on both Budget and Ways and Means, and had thousands of conversations about what goes on here and how to fix things,” Price said. “So I think he’s exactly the right person right now for this position.”  

Regardless of how Ryan votes, by December House and Senate appropriators will need to craft a catch-all spending bill to keep the government open. The deal unveiled late Monday provides top-line numbers to move forward with that process.  

Rogers said in a statement that he intends to get to work immediately with the Senate “to ensure the Appropriations process is complete ahead of the December 11 deadline, so that we can avoid any more delays or ‘shutdown showdowns’ that have caused unnecessary damage to important federal programs — including our national defense.”  

There are sure to be high stakes negotiations about the inclusion of policy riders that the White House would find toxic. Those talks have usually gone on behind the scenes, ultimately elevated to the leadership level, without the input of all members.  

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, emphasized that the revised spending caps could provide hope for reducing the need for big back-room negotiations going forward. But he pointed out how much remains to be done this year.  

“We’ve got the tax extender provisions, we have the omnibus, we have the highway bill, so we’re not done yet,” Cornyn told reporters. “This is a big deal because obviously we wanted to meet the Nov. 3 deadline [to address the debt limit].”  

For Ryan, despite the challenges ahead, he’ll take over with a heavy lift off his plate.  

“I didn’t want him to walk into a dirty barn full of you-know-what,” Boehner said Tuesday morning.  

Ryan may still have to clean out the speaker’s office, particularly if Boehner pulls out celebratory cigars.  

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.  

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