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Ryan Leaves Door Open to Policy Riders in Spending Bill

Ryan addresses the crowd after being sworn in on the House floor as the 54th speaker of the House on Oct. 29. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:35 p.m. | Speaker Paul D. Ryan won't rule out policy riders in the omnibus appropriations bill the House will consider in the weeks ahead.  

“This is the legislative branch, and the power of the purse rests within the legislative branch," the Wisconsin Republican said Tuesday at his first news conference as speaker, "and we fully expect that we're going to exercise that power."  

Ryan didn't elaborate on what riders might be inserted into the bill to fund government operations through fiscal 2016, which must get passed by Dec. 11. However, Republican leaders in the past have attempted to use must-pass legislation to extract concessions on policy provisions from Democrats in Congress and the White House.  

Front and center this time around is a bid to defund Planned Parenthood, the women's health organization that's been under attack for allegedly selling fetal tissue.  

Ryan Outlines Appropriations Strategy 

In a Sunday interview on CNN, Ryan declined to answer a question about whether he would use the spending bill to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. He said the congressional committees, particularly a newly convened Energy and Commerce investigative panel, are in the driver’s seat.  

HFC founding member John Fleming, R-La., said he expected Ryan to let the omnibus come to the House floor in an open amendment process so members could take an up-or-down vote on defunding Planned Parenthood, among other issues.  

Fellow HFC founding member Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.,  told CQ Roll Call Tuesday that he was less concerned at this point about what issues Ryan would fight for than he was about whether the speaker would fight at all. For Mulvaney, who led the charge against Planned Parenthood in the short-term spending bill currently funding the government, the omnibus is something of a test.  

"I think it's important for whatever the first big issue is that is entirely Paul's ... whatever is his, that is his alone, needs to be a little bit better than what we would have gotten under [former Speaker John A.] Boehner," Mulvaney said.  

Mulvaney pointed fingers at Boehner, whose resignation from Congress became official this weekend.  

"We recognize the budget was John's, and a bunch of this crap with transportation was John's," said Mulvaney, gesturing to the House floor where members were bringing up a six-year highway bill largely crafted in the final days of Boehner's tenure.  

HFC Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, predicted the appropriations process would come up in a meeting the group has scheduled with Ryan for later in the week.  

Ultimately, Ryan has an easier road ahead of him than he would have if Boehner hadn't spent his last week in Congress passing a two-year budget deal, which took intraparty fighting over sequestration and spending levels off the table.  

Still, with those squabbles over spending caps and funding largely dispensed with, "it's the riders that are going to pose a problem," House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters.  

If Ryan decides to pursue political messaging riders without regard to whether Obama would support them, that would be inconsistent with the speaker's duty to “a responsible stewardship of the House,” Hoyer proclaimed. “Playing chicken with the president of the United States is not responsible; it’s not good leadership and I would hope [Ryan] would not pursue that."  

Obama has warned Republicans about "ideological" fights over policy riders, which Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has also advised against.  

Meanwhile, there were some House Republicans who seemed cognizant of the steep climb Ryan has ahead of him.  

"He is aware the Senate has a filibuster. People have tried to defund Planned Parenthood for a long time. There’s only two things that’s stopping it at this point: The filibuster in the Senate and the guy in the White House," Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said. "I think Paul is as committed to protecting the unborn and defunding organizations like Planned Parenthood who profit from the murder of children as much as any of us.”  

Niels Lesniewski and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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