Q & A: Paul Ryan on the Challenges and Opportunities of Chairing the House Ways and Means Committee
By Bill Jaeck, Right Wisconsin
This month marks the 6 month anniversary of U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan’s chairmanship role of the House Ways and Means Committee. Recently I had a chance to ask him several salient questions on his new role.
1) Paul, can you comment on the original transition with your predecessor Rep. Dave Camp last November?
Sure. Dave Camp was a phenomenal representative and a great chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. I have served on Ways and Means for over a decade, so I spent a lot of time getting to know Dave and seeing how he ran the Committee. He’s a good friend, and he's a tough act to follow. Dave laid a lot of the groundwork on the issues that the Committee has been taking up this year. He put out a thoughtful tax reform proposal last year that provides a starting point for Congress as we look to enact comprehensive tax reform for the first time since 1986.
2) Can you remind our readership about the key roles and responsibilities of the House Ways and Means Committee?
It’s a committee with a very broad, very important jurisdiction, and one of the main reasons I decided not to run for President in 2016 is because I thought I could make a big difference leading this committee. Some of the key issues for the committee are fixing our broken tax code, holding the IRS accountable to hard-working taxpayers, strengthening Medicare and Social Security, repairing the safety net, promoting job-creating trade agreements, and developing patient-centered solutions to make healthcare more affordable.
3) What were your first impressions as Chairman late last year?
My first impression was: ‘This is going to be a lot of work, but this is going to be a lot of fun.’ My second impression was: ‘In this position, I have a unique opportunity to help my employers in Wisconsin’s First District and I have the ability to make a big difference.’
I’ve always been a policy person and our committee can have such a profound impact on improving people’s lives that it was exciting to start figuring out how we can address some of these problems we’re facing as a nation.
4) What are your objectives and what have you accomplished to date?
Well, we have accomplished a lot in the first few months of the 114th Congress. There’s still a lot of work to be done, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished up to this point. With a big bipartisan vote, we permanently repealed the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate and put Medicare on sounder footing. By passing the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, we took an important first step to saving Medicare. And now that we’ve fixed this, Congress can focus on other patient-centered reforms needed to preserve Medicare for future generations.
We also passed seven bills to make the IRS more accountable to taxpayers. Our investigation into the IRS is far from complete but in the meantime, we’re working to protect taxpayers’ rights and make sure that IRS employees don’t target organizations and individuals. We’ve also started the process of fixing our tax code, passing a permanent repeal of the estate tax and other reforms that add certainty to an overly complex code.
The other issue that I have been spending a lot of time on, and that I spent a week in April talking to my constituents about, is trade. Along with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, I introduced legislation that would establish rules to guide international trade negotiations so the United States gets trade agreements that boost American ex-ports and that create more jobs for American workers, manufacturers, farmers, and entrepreneurs. Trade Promotion Authority gives Congress a say in the negotiating process and is critical if the President is to negotiate a trade agreement with 11 pacific countries.
As we work on these issues, we’re also looking to advance patient-centered health care re-forms that provide a clear contrast to Obamacare and explore ways to fix our social safety net so we can expand economic opportunities to more Americans.
5) What have been your committee’s key challenges?
I think one of the challenges has been that there are a lot of deadline-driven items that have consumed the Committee’s time and attention. For instance, fixing the Sustainable Growth Rate was something that needed to be taken care of before April; the Highway Trust Fund needs to get addressed by the end of May; and the Administration is finalizing the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with 11 nations and the United States – so these more time-sensitive issues have been challenging. But we’ve been able to address those issues in a timely manner and I think we’ll continue to meet any legislative challenges we face.
6) What do you see on the horizon for the remainder of 2015?
I expect the next six months to be as busy as the first six months! We need to pass Trade Pro-motion Authority and the Administration needs to finalize a good agreement with Pacific coun-tries so we write the rules of the global economy, rather than China. We need to deal with the outcome of the King vs. Burwell case which is currently before the Supreme Court and provide a patient-centered alternative to Obamacare. And we need to advance comprehensive tax reforms so the tax code is fairer, simpler, and more competitive. As we’re tackling all these is-sues, our focus is going to be on helping grow the economy and improve the lives of individuals and families across the country so that’s going to be our north star.