House Speaker Paul Ryan defied skeptics who thought his party would never get the sweeping tax overhaul bill to President Donald Trump’s desk by Christmas. The key, the Wisconsin Republican said minutes after gaveling down a House vote on the measure on Dec. 19, was uniting Republicans behind a common plan from the start — and relying on Republicans to do what comes naturally to them: Cut taxes.
“We learned lessons from health care, no two ways about it,” Ryan told The Associated Press in an interview, contrasting the tax measure with the party’s pratfall on repealing so-called Obamacare. “No. 1, get the conservative movement on board. No. 2, when we go, make sure the Senate is ready to go with us. That's why we decided to negotiate the basic outlines of this plan ahead of time.”
House passage of the GOP’s long-sought, hard-fought tax bill on Dec. 19 is the capstone of Ryan’s career and the bipartisan agenda ahead for early next year — immigration and huge spending increases — threatens to splinter his party and inflame the hard right. Rumors have been flying that Ryan would soon call it quits, but he assured his Republican brethren Dec. 19 that he’s not leaving his job “anytime soon.”
The speaker was gleeful as he slammed down the gavel and announced the House vote with his GOP colleagues roaring approval. Hours later, it turned out the celebration was a bit premature as a last-minute glitch surfaced in the Senate. Three provisions of the bill violated Senate rules, requiring their removal and a House vote again on Dec. 20.
Unlike the divisions that consumed Republicans on Obamacare repeal — there was agreement about repealing the Affordable Care Act but disagreement over how to replace it — Republican divisions on taxes were relatively minor, Ryan said.
“It’s an easier issue because we all are more or less wired the same,” Ryan said in his Capitol office. “Our DNA is similarly structured as Republicans. We are more or less agreed on how to do it. We did not necessarily have that on health care.”
The fracture suggests Republicans will face problems next year if they try again to dismantle Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Ryan acknowledges that the tax measure probably won’t pay for itself, and he recognizes that it’s polling poorly with the voters who are supposed to embrace it.
“I don't know whether this will pay for itself or not, but I do know that this is going to create the kind of growth we need to get out of the hole we’re in,” he said.
Looking back on the saga, Ryan said the decision to abandon his controversial “border adjustment tax” on imports was a cause for alarm. The numbers might not work.
In fact, Ryan confessed Dec. 19, he initially thought there was no way to cut the top corporate rate down to 20 or 21 percent without the border tax.
“When we lost BAT (border adjustment tax) I was hoping to land at 25 (percent corporate rate),” Ryan said. “I was just hoping to get below 25. I did not think we would land at 21.”
Ryan’s political future has been the subject of widespread speculation in Washington publications such as Politico and others.
“I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, and just let’s leave that thing at that,” Ryan told reporters when asked if he’d seek re-election to his House seat next year.
Parsing Ryan’s statements could lead one to conclude that he won’t leave immediately but that even if Republicans hold the House next year he may not return to the Speaker’s job he reluctantly took on two years ago.
“I’ll address my future in the future,” he told The Associated Press. “Right now, I’ll just enjoy this moment. I’ve got no plans to do anything different.”