Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s message Thursday was clear: House Republicans are ready for 2016. They will not sit around killing time while the GOP presidential candidates fight it out. They can and will offer bold legislative solutions that will show what a GOP-led Washington could accomplish.
He previewed the House’s 2016 agenda Thursday during his first major address as speaker, highlighting policy areas where he says Republicans can and should offer legislative solutions. “If we want to save the country, then we need a mandate from the people,” Ryan said. “And if we want a mandate, then we need to offer ideas. And if we want to offer ideas, then we need to actually have ideas. And that’s where House Republicans come in.”
Ryan, who has not committed to serving as speaker beyond the current Congress, said Republicans' number one goal for 2016 is to put together “a complete alternative” to counter Democrats’ agenda and that the first item on the GOP agenda is to create jobs. He suggested that a tax code overhaul would do that, called for closing loopholes to lower corporate and individual rates, and for reducing the seven individual tax brackets to two or three.
Ryan: ‘If We Want a Mandate, Then We Need to Offer Ideas’
“I also know many of these loopholes will be fiercely defended,” he said. “All I can say is we will not be cowed. We are not here to smooth things over. We are here to shake things up.”
The speaker also talked about replacing the 2010 healthcare law with a lower-cost alternative, consolidating federal welfare programs to reward work, equipping the military to adapt to new threats, and uniting behind free trade agreements.
“We are not going to solve all the country’s problems next year,” the speaker said. “We need a new president. It’s just that simple. But even if we can’t move mountains, we can make moves in the right direction.”
The speech was largely ignored by Democrats. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Ryan had nothing new and that his speech showed that “Republicans remain fixated on a toxic special interest agenda that threatens the economic security of millions of seniors and hard-working families.”
The speech was short on policy details, but members said that wasn’t the purpose of the address. “It was about vision,” said Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Pa., a close friend of Ryan’s. “It was about laying out the contrast between the vision of Republicans and the vision of the left.”
The speech’s theme, as well as a Twitter hashtag the speaker’s office created for the occasion, was to build a “confident America.” Ryan outlined how Republicans can turn their principles into policies that voters can get behind.
“If you don’t have a job, we want you to be confident that you can find one—and take it,” Ryan said. “If you do have a job, we want you to be confident that that job will pay well. We want students to know that all that school — and all that debt — will be worth it. We want seniors to know that all those years of hard work — and all those years of paying taxes — will be rewarded.”
To help build that confidence, Ryan said, House Republicans will not be afraid to take up major legislation in 2016 — something typically unheard of in an election year.
“Even if [President Obama] won’t sign them into law, we will put out specific proposals and give the people a real choice,” Ryan said. “And I don’t mean just undo what the president has done — as if we could time-travel back to 2009. I mean show what we would do, what our ideal policy would be — looking forward to 2017 and beyond.”
Even though Ryan said Republicans will move major legislation on their own if necessary, he was also somewhat optimistic about smaller areas in which Democrats and Republicans can find common ground. “Even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and then, and hard as it might be to believe, even politicians can find common ground,” he said.
Ryan’s Republican colleagues, a few dozen of whom were in the audience in the great hall of the Library of Congress, praised the Wisconsin Republican for offering a clear direction for the party.
“This is why the members are so excited about Paul Ryan being speaker,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told Roll Call. “He laid out the bold vision that all of us as conservatives want to see the House take on.”
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said in an interview that Ryan’s address illustrated his communication skills: “When he speaks, he doesn’t speak from notes, he speaks from his heart, and that comes across so clearly."
“Anybody that heard that speech who doesn’t come out of there feeling confident about the direction we’re heading in and the mission we’re on wasn’t able to understand it, because he was fabulous today," Kelley added.
Kelly, who played football his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, heard his message this way: "OK, we’re going on the field. Put your mouth piece in, tighten your chin strap, get your helmet on because we’re ready to go there. We’ve got to win for the American people.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who introduced Ryan, said that Republicans will inevitably have “good faith disagreements” but that leadership’s job is to turn those differences into a source of strength, not weakness.
Ryan said Democrats want to paint Republicans as irresponsible as they head into the 2016 election cycle and that the GOP shouldn’t take the bait.
“Don’t play their game. Don’t give them a win by default,” he said. “Put together a positive agenda, and take it to the American people. Give people the choice they are yearning for. And if next year, this House can say we have done that, then we will have done our job.”
See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.