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Paul Ryan Pivots to Tax Code Rewrite, Welfare Overhaul

Speaker still wants Senate to get health care done but makes no assurances

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan appears ready to move on to other Republican priorities such as tax and welfare overhauls. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan appears ready to move on to other Republican priorities such as tax and welfare overhauls. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Amid a Senate Republican impasse over health care, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is trying to pivot to two other major priorities: rewriting the tax code and overhauling welfare programs.

“Welfare reform and tax reform are the two big things” Republicans need to get done this fall to complete their agenda for the year, as well infrastructure, Ryan told talk radio host Mike Gallagher on Wednesday.

Notably, a welfare overhaul and an infrastructure package were not among the priorities Ryan outlined at the congressional GOP retreat in January when presenting the agenda for the first 200 days. The speaker has previously said both welfare and infrastructure were more likely to be addressed in 2018. 

The speeding-up of the timeline to overhaul welfare programs comes as House Republicans are trying to adopt a budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions for a deficit-neutral tax overhaul and $203 billion in mandatory spending cuts over 10 years, some of which are expected to come from welfare programs.

“One of the reforms that we think that is important that we’re advancing this year, in addition to tax reform, is welfare reform,” Ryan said Wednesday on the Jerry Bader radio show.

Many welfare programs currently do not incentivize work, the speaker said, noting that Republicans are looking at adding work requirements and time limits to existing benefits.

“What we don’t want to do is create a poverty trap where it pays not to work,” he said.

Ryan’s pitch for overhauling the welfare system is important because he will need to convince the Senate to add it to its agenda for the year too.

Senate Republicans have not yet drafted their own budget resolution or indicated that they are interested in addressing mandatory spending this year. If the Senate does not pass a budget with matching reconciliation instructions, the House agenda for the rest of the year will be derailed

Like he often does when speaking to the media, Ryan spent part of his radio interviews Wednesday touting the bills the House has passed so far this year, such as repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law and the National Defense Authorization Act. 

The speaker appeared vexed that House-passed measures often stall in the Senate, blaming procedural hurdles that are unlikely to change. 

“The fact of the matter is the Senate will not revoke the filibuster for legislation. That’s frustrating to me probably more than anyone else,” Ryan said.

President Donald Trump, however, is probably more frustrated by the legislative filibuster as he’s only just started to understand the implications of it, whereas Ryan’s seen it for years.

Trump has gone a step further in calling for an end to the filibuster. He has tweeted about it on multiple occasions, most recently on Wednesday after Senate Republican leaders failed to whip up enough support for their health care bill.

However, the speaker quickly added that he doesn’t want to accept that as an answer, saying, “We just got to keep at it.”

Ryan said he is meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this afternoon to discuss, among other items, what the House can do to help get the Senate off neutral on health care.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to get this issue moving,” he said on the Stan Milam radio show.

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