Protests greet House Speaker Paul Ryan in Lawrence
LAWRENCE — US House Speaker Paul D. Ryan pitched the outlines of his tax reform package at a sneaker factory Thursday, promising congressional Republicans are more united on that issue than over their ailing health care plan.
Addressing local business leaders and New Balance factory workers, Ryan said a simplified, streamlined tax code would goose the national economy, encouraging employers who have sent jobs overseas to bring them home.
The Wisconsin Republican said the tax rates for all employers should come down from roughly 35 percent to closer to the average across the rest of the industrialized world of 22.5 percent. He said he wanted to eliminate loopholes and, for individual taxes, cut rates and consolidate deductions.
Ryan’s trip to this heavily Democratic city came as congressional Republicans have suffered string of setbacks on the health care front and as President Trump has turned on his own attorney general, former US senator Jeff Sessions, an early Trump campaign supporter.
Still, contending that the current political climate offered a “once-in-a-generation moment,” Ryan vowed, “We’re going to get this done in 2017.”
With the GOP effort to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act on the rocks, and doubts that the enormously complex field of tax reform could pose an equally heavy lift, Ryan sounded a note of optimism.
“As Republicans, we are wired the same way on tax reform,” Ryan told reporters. “Obviously, we’ve seen in the Senate there are a difference of opinions on how to do health care reform. We are so much more unified on tax reform, on what it looks like, and how to do it, and the need to do it.”
Ryan said businesses like New Balance, a leading maker of athletic shoes, would benefit from the bill, which has yet to take definitive shape as House and Senate committees work with the White House to find common ground.
New Balance owner Jim Davis is a Republican donor, including a $100,000 contribution to Ryan’s political action committee last August, according to federal campaign finance records.
Ryan was due on Nantucket for a political fundraiser later Thursday, two people familiar with his plans said.
Introducing Ryan on the factory floor, Davis said he hoped the tax legislation would launch “a new era, an era which will end the 10-year gridlock inhibiting our country from reaching its full potential.”
Elected speaker in 2015, the 47-year-old Ryan was former governor Mitt Romney’s running mate on the 2012 Republican presidential ticket.
Pointing to the last major federal tax reform in 1986, negotiated between President Reagan and then-Speaker Tip O’Neill, Ryan said the current system strangles job creation and represents “the worst business tax code in the industrialized world.”
“We’re doing it to ourselves,” he said.
Gesturing around the factory, “Today, places like this, this is more the exception than the rule. That’s our problem. Companies are not flocking to the United States, companies are fleeing this country and taking their good jobs with them. They’re not storing up their profits and their capital here, they’re keeping them offshore.”
Federal tax reform is widely regarded as one of the thorniest policy matters in Congress, lobbied by a dizzying array of corporate interests.
But Ryan waved off “the cynical talk in Washington,” arguing, “Despite everything we’ve seen in Washington, don’t fall for it.”
Walking away from his press availability, Ryan ignored a question about Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian election interference and, reportedly, Trump’s business dealings.
Scores of protesters demonstrated across the street prior to Ryan’s arrival, critical of the House-backed repeal of Obamacare. They chanted, “No hate, no fear, Paul Ryan is not welcome here.”
State Democrats sought to link Ryan’s visit to Republican Governor Charlie Baker. In a press release, state party chair Gus Bickford said, “Instead of speaking out against Speaker Ryan’s cruel agenda that harms working families, Governor Baker is trying to ignore Ryan’s visit to Massachusetts today.”