Politics

Paul Ryan Starts Off Whirlwind Day With Coffee With House Chaplain

Speaker says controversy is behind them as busy day on Capitol Hill gets under way

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said his relationship with House Chaplain Patrick Conroy is on the mend. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Amid a whirlwind day as Capitol Hill began digesting proposals to claw back spending and next steps on the Iran nuclear deal, Speaker Paul D. Ryan walked through policy moves Republicans want to take — and even found time to suggest a simmering conflict over the House chaplain is improving.

“Father Pat and I had a good cup of coffee this morning,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “We talked about how to improve the services going forward. We’re going to keep talking. ... I think we can ultimately make improvements so that everyone ultimately has access to the pastoral services they’re looking for.”

Last month, Ryan requested House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy, resign, setting off a minor religious conflagration that ended with Conroy un-resigning and Ryan agreeing to let him stay on. 

Ryan’s comments are likely to frustrate Democrats who have questioned why Ryan didn’t just discuss his concerns with Conroy in the first place.

Nonetheless, Ryan seems to believe the controversy is behind him.

“I feel good about where things are,” he said.

Ryan and GOP leaders spoke as the Trump administration was submitting to lawmakers a $15.4 billion package of spending cut proposals, known as “rescissions.” Nearly half of the cuts, or $7 billion, would come from unspent Children’s Health Insurance Program funds, and almost $5 billion would be cut from dormant Energy Department loan programs.

Under the 1974 budget law, Congress will have 45 calendar days to act on the proposal, not counting adjournments of at least three days. If the relevant committees have not acted within 25 days, a member of either chamber supporting the rescissions measure may seek to discharge the package from committee with the support of at least one-fifth of the chamber in question.

The White House said their request to rescind $15.4 billion in previously-enacted spending would reduce the deficit by only $3 billion, owing to the fact that most of the affected programs were either inactive or had unneeded funds.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday predicted the House will pass the entire $15 billion rescission package the White House has sent to Congress.

“I think we will move this package,” the California Republican said. “The uniqueness about this too is the simple majority in the Senate. This would be the largest rescission package ever signed into law.”

McCarthy declined to provide a timeline for moving the package other than the 45 days the budget law provides for consideration of rescissions under expedited authority.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized proposed the rescissions plan, noting the unspent funds for the CHIP program could be channeled to other areas. 

McCarthy questioned the rationale of Pelosi’s opposition.

“You cannot authorize this money,” McCarthy said. “And you look at the [Congressional Budget Office] score, this does not affect anybody in the CHIP program. This is money that cannot be spent. She voted for this exact same thing, to rescind this money into CHIP — more than that, $6 billion in the [omnibus spending package] to spend it somewhere else instead of ... to send it back to the taxpayer.”

Pelosi indeed suggested that was her reasoning, saying the CHIP funds could be channeled to other programs with similar intent.

“Then it’s not about policy,” McCarthy said of Pelosi’s explanation. “It just goes backs to the debate. They want to spend more money, and we want to find places we can save money.”

Ways and Means ranking member Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., was withering in his criticism of the proposal. “In order to shower benefits on the well-off and well-connected, President Trump and congressional Republicans want to slash funding for a program that provides health care to children in middle-class and low-income families. Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, and Republicans’ most recent $2.3 trillion gift to their wealthy donors is no exception. Now, on top of saddling the next generation with crushing debt, the GOP is making it harder for millions of kids to get the health care they need,” he said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, Ryan was asked about other items on Congress’ burners.

Ryan said he has not spoken to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes about his push to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress.

“We expect the administration to comply with our document requests as a matter of form for the executive branch and our legislative branch oversight,” the speaker said.

The speaker also said the House will be moving the Senate-passed Dodd Frank bill and the Senate will be moving a bill some of the House Financial Services banking reforms.

“We will be moving the Dodd Frank bill. We’re also going to be moving in the Senate a package of bills that we think will actually add to this, that the Financial Services Committee has acted on as well. Chairman [Jeb Hensarling] is working with them on that.”

Ryan deferred to McCarthy on timing, who said, “There will be an announcement soon.”

And hanging over the day will be President Donald Trump’s announcement this afternoon about his approach to the Iran nuclear deal. 

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