TimesTalk: Paul Ryan Wants Tax Reform and a Happy Trump

Despite multiple record-setting hurricanes making landfall, Nazis feeling emboldened enough to march across a major college campus and a seemingly never-ending health care debate, House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted last week that the United States’ main priority needs to be tax reform.

Ryan made his pitch for tax reform during an interview for the New York Times’ TimesTalks series on Sept. 7 at the Newseum. The public Q&A was moderated by NYT Washington Bureau Chief Elisabeth Bumiller and NYT Deputy Washington Editor Jonathan Weisman.

The two grilled Ryan on why he is prioritizing tax reform over other issues plaguing the U.S., President Donald Trump’s debt-ceiling deal with Democratic Congressional Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the speaker’s response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., and more.

Taxes Front and Center

Ryan was adamant that tax reform should be Congress’ main goal going forward, to lessen the fears of Americans worried about drowning in a perpetual sea of back taxes.

“When standards of living flatline, it’s bad for the country,” he said. “A new tax code will ease some of that hyperpolarization and anxiety.”

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Tax reform has clearly been on Ryan’s mind lately. He has used his Twitter account over the last few days to continue his call for a simplified, streamlined tax code.

He said that in addition to individual discontent, the country’s current complicated tax code is having tangible effects elsewhere. Ryan claimed the tax code has helped contribute to the U.S. being “dead last” in the industrial world in terms of competitiveness, and that companies are taking their headquarters and jobs to countries with less complex tax requirements.

It is worth noting that according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Competitiveness Report, the U.S. has one of the three most competitive economies in the world.

Ryan also said that he believes many relief programs that have tried to help people stay afloat while they search for employment have had the reverse effect.

“The safety net we’ve created in this country is problematic,” he said. “A single mom would be losing 80 cents on the dollar if she decided to work instead of collecting benefits.”

On this issue, Ryan and Trump are perfectly in sync, as Trump has often indicated his intention to modify or cut programs dedicating government funds that help the poor meet basic needs.

“The president is still very committed to selling tax reform,” Ryan said, a sentiment Trump echoed on Sept. 9 when he called for a tax reform “speedup” from Congress due to the potential impact of Hurricane Irma.

Ryan will probably appreciate Trump’s insistence on getting that done sooner, given his objective was just to ensure “Americans [don’t] wake up on New Year’s Day without a new tax code.”

Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Bipartisanship

In terms of his ability to work with congressional Democrats to turn his agenda into law, Ryan seemed heartened by Trump’s decision to work with Pelosi and Schumer to pass a temporary measure to raise the debt ceiling.

He said that Trump made a point to not start a partisan “food fight,” which bodes well for the potential of compromise in the future.

The speaker did, however, take one shot at Democrats earlier in the TimesTalk. After being asked about the spending habits of blue states, his response was full of subtext: “I’m not going to comment if the Democrats are profligate spenders or not.”

White Nationalists and Dreamers

Bumiller and Weisman also asked Ryan about Trump’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Ryan had previously declared was “well-intentioned,” but a “clear abuse of executive authority.”

He doubled down on that rhetoric, saying that DACA is first and foremost a border security problem as opposed to a humanitarian one. He also said he believes waiting six months to officially end DACA should be enough time to create a plan to deal with the roughly 800,000 people currently protected under the program.

As for Charlottesville, Ryan made a clear distinction between evil (Nazis, white supremacists) and good (not Nazis or white supremacists), but also made it clear that people like the masked antifa protesters who attacked Trump supporters at a rally in Berkeley, Calif., are also clearly in the wrong.

This moral stand is in stark contrast to Trump’s response to Charlottesville, when he blamed “both sides” for the violence that led to the death of protester Heather Heyer during that white supremacist demonstration.

Ryan came out against Trump’s rhetoric at the time, saying he “messed up” in his Charlottesville response by making a “moral equivocation” between the protesters and marchers. Of course, he did once say that he knows Trump is “disgusted by these people” at least partially because “his grandkids are Jewish.”

Ryan has a clear agenda — pass tax reform, bring back jobs, curb illegal immigration — which mostly lines up with that of Trump. And he understands what his job has become in order to accomplish those goals: keeping the president happy, so legislation can move forward.

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