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CQ Roll Call Survey of Hill Staff Finds Deep Skepticism About GOP

The Republicans’ House majority, 246 strong, is the biggest the GOP has enjoyed since 1929. But House Republican aides stand apart from their counterparts in the Democratic party and in the Senate in their skepticism about party leaders, a new CQ Roll Call survey of Hill staff members shows.

New Speaker Paul D. Ryan has promised to unite the party, fractured by the ouster of Ryan’s predecessor, John A. Boehner, and by Republicans’ inability to best President Barack Obama on policy. But the CQ Roll Call Capitol Insiders Survey, which will be conducted monthly, reveals just what he’s up against.

The survey, which drew responses from 531 Hill aides, found that the larger the tent for the GOP, the harder it is to keep everyone happy.

Forty-nine percent of the 163 House Republican aides who participated said they approved of House and Senate GOP leadership. And while their answers reflect GOP dissatisfaction with the rule of the departed Boehner, it’s also an indication of Republicans’ sour mood in general.

The aides filled out the survey last week, when Ryan’s ascension was assured. The questionnaire was sent to 7,048 congressional staff members in CQ Roll Call’s online database. Aides were asked with which political party they are affiliated.

The aides’ gloom extends to their expectations of Ryan’s first months in office. Just 50 percent predicted that Ryan would be granted the honeymoon period he’s requested.

In laying out his case to Republicans, Ryan said in October that the GOP needed to “unify” and “move from being an opposition party to a proposition party.”

But his pledge is likely to run up against some hard realities. The Republicans’ Senate majority of 54 remains too small to overcome Democratic obstruction. Obama still wields a veto pen.

Policy Riders

In five weeks’ time, Congress will have to enact an omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2016, and while the budget deal (HR 1314) Boehner pushed through last week will help, House Republicans will want to see some spending victories in the form of policy riders Democrats won’t abide. Ryan said Tuesday at his first press conference as speaker that he would not rule out policy riders in the omnibus.

“If there is a honeymoon, I don’t think it will be very long,” says former House Appropriations Chairman Robert L. Livingston, a Louisiana Republican. House conservatives angry about their lack of success in rolling back Obama’s agenda “are going to continue to be frustrated, no matter who is the speaker of the House,” he says.

CQ Roll Call’s survey reveals that aides now believe there’s little chance of a lapse in government funding come December, when the current continuing resolution (PL 114-53) expires. For instance, only 6 percent of House Republican staffers said they expected one. Overall, only 12 percent of aides held that opinion.

But Democrats also doubt that Republicans will cut Ryan any slack. Fifty-three percent of 201 respondents, Democratic aides in both the House and Senate, said the new speaker would not enjoy a honeymoon, compared to 37 percent who thought he’d get one. Another 10 percent weren’t sure.

The angst in the GOP House is even more striking when compared with how Senate aides of both parties and Democratic House staffers view their own leadership.

For example, 55 percent of Senate GOP aides said they approved of the job the Republican leadership is doing, compared to the 49 percent of House Republican aides who approved of it.

The discrepancy between disapproval ratings was more pronounced. Only 28 percent of the Senate aides said they disapproved of the job GOP leaders are doing, compared to 45 percent of House aides.

Less Angst for Democrats

Democrats, despite their minority status, were more content than either.

Nearly four in five House Democratic aides approved of the job their own party leadership is doing, despite their dismal prospects for retaking control of the chamber in next year’s election. Even more Senate Democratic staffers appreciate their leadership, 86 percent, though Senate Democrats’ election prospects are better.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lost just three votes from fellow Democrats in the recent speaker election and, it seems, few blame the Californian for the party’s poor showing in recent elections. Pelosi “brings her A game every day,” says Katherine M. Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat. “I don’t see Nancy Pelosi as the reason the Democrats are in the minority.”

In American politics, it’s easier to stay united as an opposition party than it is to stick together in the majority. The opposition can focus on climbing back into the majority. The majority party has to produce policy results in order to keep its coalition intact.

“Sometimes people forget that members of Congress are there for a reason,” says Christopher Cox, a Californian who served as House Republican Policy Committee chairman from 1995-2005. “They believe deeply in the policies that they have campaigned on with the voters. It doesn’t do to return home and say it can’t be done.”

And now there’s a whole industry of interest groups and conservative pundits who exist to question those results. “The business model of the groups on the outside is to oppose whatever the leadership does and say it’s not enough,” says Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican who served seven House terms representing Northern Virginia.

Ryan is already under their microscope.

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