WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan backed off months of promises the Republicans’ tax plan won’t add to the nation’s ballooning deficit, declaring Wednesday in an AP Newsmaker interview the most important goal of an overhaul is economic growth.
Asked twice whether he would insist the emerging tax plan won’t pile more billions onto the $20 trillion national debt, Ryan passed up the chance to affirm the commitment. GOP leaders made the “revenue neutral” promise in a campaign manifesto last year and many times since.
“We want pro-growth tax reform that will get the economy going, that will get people back to work, that will give middle-income taxpayers a tax cut and that will put American businesses in a better competitive playing field, so that we keep American businesses in America,” the Wisconsin Republican told Associated Press reporters and editors. “That is more important than anything else.”
Ryan’s comments, signaling possible retreat on a core GOP commitment, came amid quickening action on taxes, which Republicans view as their last, best chance to notch a significant accomplishment to take to voters in the 2018 midterm elections following the collapse of their “Obamacare” repeal drive. Yet even as President Trump hunted for Democratic votes for a plan that’s not yet taken shape and GOP leaders laid out an aggressive timetable to lawmakers, significant hurdles remained.
A major one is the GOP’s failure, thus far, to pass a federal budget, which under legislative rules is a prerequisite for a tax plan that can avoid being stalled to death by Democrats in the Senate.
Others involve the contents of the tax blueprint itself, which Ryan and his lieutenants envision as a far-reaching reform plan that would significantly lower rates for corporations and individuals, while cleaning up the loophole-ridden code. One problem is every tax deduction has its own constituency and Ryan has already ruled out eliminating some of the most popular ones, including deductions for home mortgages and charitable giving.
Objections also threaten from the GOP’s seemingly shrinking ranks of deficit hawks if Ryan, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell do try to move forward with a tax plan that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, without paying for it with cuts in federal spending or some new sources of revenue.
On taxes, Trump himself added to the complications when he surprisingly declared, at a meeting with a bipartisan group of House members, that taxes on the wealthy would not go down under the GOP plan and might even go up. Although the administration has not provided specifics on its plan, House Republicans have embraced an approach that would lower the top individual rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, which would be beneficial to the wealthiest .
Trump reiterated he hoped to lower the top corporate tax rate from 35 to 15 percent, something Ryan has already ruled out as impractical.