House Speaker Ryan urges conservative unity in election year

WASHINGTON U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday urged conservatives to unify in an election year, warning them to refrain from the kind of infighting that frustrated and eventually drove out his predecessor, John Boehner.

“Let’s not fight over tactics. Don’t impugn people’s motives,” Ryan said in the remarks at Heritage Action, one of the conservative groups that often battled with Boehner over the best strategy for shrinking government.

Ryan said divisions among Republicans played into the hands of Democrats. But as he spoke, discontent was brewing among conservative Republican House members over the U.S. budget for the coming year.

Late last year, more than 160 Republicans in the House voted against a two-year budget deal Boehner reached with the Obama administration.

Ryan did not mention Boehner by name. He urged conservatives not to use their disagreements, including over appropriations, as a litmus test for supporting each other.

“It’s fine if you disagree … But we can’t let how someone votes on an amendment to an appropriations bill define what it means to be a conservative,” Ryan said.

Heritage Action, an affiliate of the conservative Heritage Foundation, was one of the outside groups that agitated for deeper spending cuts during the Boehner years. Boehner blamed these groups for pushing him into funding showdowns, including a 16-day government shutdown in 2013.

A moderate Republican, Boehner tired of fighting with conservatives and announced last September he was giving up his gavel.

Ryan was elected speaker in October, and has enjoyed something of a honeymoon with conservatives.

“Look, I come out of the conservative movement. I was a think tanker myself … You know, I love Heritage Foundation…” Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate, told reporters on Tuesday.

But Ryan could see Republican unity tested over upcoming fiscal decisions.

The budget deal reached late last year exceeded strict spending caps by $80 billion over two years, to pump up defense and domestic programs. It is to be used as a framework for upcoming budget and appropriations legislation.

Conservatives are unhappy with it. Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House did not vote for it; in fact, more than 160 of the House’s 246 Republicans voted against it.

Ryan, trying to allay concerns, hosted the Freedom Caucus in his office on Tuesday evening for “budget and beers,'” a spokeswoman said.

“It was an opportunity to jumpstart the talks on this year’s budget,” spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by David Gregorio)

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