Ryan Suggests Tax Overhaul Is First Priority of GOP Agenda

'I really want to get tax reform running as quickly as possible,' speaker says

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan acknowledged that his hopes of a tax overhaul bill rely on the Republicans keeping control of the House and Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Friday revealed that a tax overhaul would likely be the first legislative item on the House Republicans' "Better Way" agenda to move in the 115th Congress and suggested he'd use the budget reconciliation process to advance it.

"I really want to get tax reform running as quickly as possible," the speaker said during an event with college Republicans in Madison, Wisonsin.

Asked about his priorities for the next legislative session, Ryan produced his Better Way pamphlet and discussed how House Republicans in 2017 would get right to work on growing the economy. 

“First thing out of the gate is a budget that gets tax reform, that gets this debt and deficit under control and gets our military what they need," the Wisconsin Republican said. "Then we've got to go work on regulations. I want to work on poverty and welfare. I want to work on the rest of this agenda, effectively." 

Ryan told congressional reporters in September that Republicans could use the budget reconciliation process to enact pieces of the Better Way agenda, but did not specify at the time which ones he would want to move through reconciliation.

Ryan did not specifically refer to the budget reconciliation process during Friday's question-and-answer session with the college students, as such legislative minutiae could have been lost on the audience. But the only way a budget "gets tax reform" is through reconciliation.

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The House and Senate budget committees would write budget resolutions — and reconcile the two versions — with instructions for the tax-writing committees for drafting legislation to overhaul the tax code.

Reconciliation has a procedural advantage, since legislation produced under the budget process only requires a simple majority for passage in the Senate. If Republicans keep control of the chamber, they could use reconciliation to advance a House GOP tax overhaul bill without the threat of a Democratic filibuster. 

Ryan acknowledged that this scenario wouldn't work if Democrats control the Senate. 

"It’s the Senate budget chair who is the referee who decides whether or how we’re going to consider that bill, tax bill or a budget bill," Ryan explained, outlining the reconciliation process without specifying that was what he was talking about.

"If we keep control of the Senate in the Republican hands … a nice guy named Mike Enzi from Wyoming is the Senate budget chair and he helps us get these budgets to the president’s desk, gets these tax bills through," Ryan said. "If we lose the Senate, do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee? A guy named Bernie Sanders. You ever heard of him?"

"This just tells you what we would be dealing with in a divided government if we lose control of the Senate," the speaker added. "And so losing the Senate makes it that much more difficult to even put a bill on the president’s desk."

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