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Memo to Paul Ryan: Take the job

If you're thinking the speakership complicates a later bid for the White House, don't. No Ways and Means Committee chairman has made it, either – and none have tried.

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    House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is seen in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 9, 2015. House Republicans are trying to find a consensus candidate to be speaker, and Ryan is the top prospect.
    Molly Riley/AP/File
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As somebody who worked for 15 years in the House GOP Leadership, including six years as a spokesman to the longest serving Republican speaker in the history, I have a simple message for my friend Paul Ryan: Take the damn job.

Here are five reasons that Mr. Ryan should bow to the wishes of his colleagues and agree to upgrade to the speaker’s chair:

  • It’s a great job: The American version of the speaker’s office is the most powerful in the world. You get to set the agenda for your party just as you speak for the entire House. Outside of the presidency, no other political office gives you the same power to combine ceremony and policy. Plus, you get to see the world, meet with every foreign head of state, and you have a constant flow of celebrities who want to meet you.
  • It’s a place where policy is made: Woodrow Wilson once said that it is the committees where real policy work is done, but in the modern era, that’s not really true. The speaker is the one who does the bulk of negotiating with the Senate and with the White House. Sure, he or she can give all due deference to committee chairmen and sometimes allow them to do the negotiating, but ultimately, it’s the speaker who drives the policy agenda.
  • When the speaker speaks, people listen: There are plenty of committee chairmen, backbenchers, and senators who struggle to get noticed by the news media. That’s not a problem for the speaker of the House, even a low-key one. My former boss, Denny Hastert, would go out of his way to say as little as possible because he didn’t want to get ahead of his members. But make no mistake, when he wanted to be heard, his colleagues and the White House stopped and listened to what he had to say, because they had no choice.
  • It’s a chance to make your mark on history: Newt Gingrich had the Contract with America. Hastert passed the prescription drug benefit. Nancy Pelosi was the first female speaker of the House. Boehner successfully invited Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of the Congress. Each person who ascends to the speaker’s chair has a chance to make real history on his or her terms. Not everybody can say that they had a job like that.
  • A bird in the hand…: Some people speculate that Ryan might not want the job because it complicates his drive to president. While it is true that no speaker of the House has used that job to get to the White House, it’s not for the lack of trying. Henry Clay, Champ Clarke, and Newt Gingrich all tried to ascend to the throne. But just because no one has successfully done it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a dead-end job. And in fact, the speaker’s office as modernly constructed is a great platform to jump to a bigger job. And I would make the observation that no Ways and Means Committee chairman has ascended to the Oval Office and indeed none have tried.

John Feehery publishes his Feehery Theory blog at http://www.thefeeherytheory.com/.

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