The newly elected Republican speaker of the House, Congressman Paul Ryan, has declared that he wants to work with Democrats and Republicans alike. In his first speech as the speaker of the House, he asked his colleagues to pray for one another, saying that significant problems were not being solved by the House of Representatives. “We are adding to them,” he said.
At 45 years of age, Ryan is the youngest legislator to hold the post since the 1800s. While he is solidly conservative, I am hopeful that the new speaker will eschew demands from extremists in his party and help to heal the dysfunction that has played the House in recent years. A divided, politically charged, un-collaborative caucus has manufactured one crisis after another. Too frequently, our nation has been threatened with a government shutdown, or watched in disbelief as a rambunctious, divisive faction held the full faith and credit of our nation hostage as they poisoned critical legislation with harmful, destructive policy riders. And while the majority in Congress hoped that Ryan’s ascension into office signaled an end to the dysfunction, he has indicated that radical policy riders may be attached to the upcoming appropriations bill, the result of which could lead to another government shutdown. I, and a majority of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, believe that the American public deserves better, more reasoned governance than this.
We were moving in the right direction when we passed a bi-partisan two year budget agreement. We were hopeful that government agencies would benefit from the ability to make strategic decisions and plan for the best uses of its resources. This basic business practice is essential for providing quality public service to millions of Americans who benefit from services, like Social Security retirement and disability, veterans health care, Medicare and Medicaid. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives is again considering contentious policy riders that threaten our ability to pass responsible, prudent legislation. Some Republicans have offered a litany of radical policies riders that attempts to undermine the Clean Water Act, weaken the Dodd-Frank reforms that protect us from future financial crises like the one that weakened us in 2008, and thwart efforts to remove lead paint from millions of homes. These actions threaten the physical and financial security of the very people we were elected to protect.
I will forcefully fight against the passage of these harmful policies, and I encourage my Democratic and Republic colleagues to do the same. Let’s commit to doing what is best for our constituents. Acting in the best interest of our country requires that we reach across the aisle, defy political boundaries, and work in earnest to find fair and prudent solutions to our nation’s problems.
I am hopeful that Ryan will resist becoming an echo of the most extreme voices in his party and avoid the gridlock that has plagued the House for far too long. We know that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” We have been granted a sacred trust; honoring that trust requires that we act with integrity, vote our conscience and govern according to the unfailing principles of democracy. The future of our nation depends on it.
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.