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Ryan Discusses Trade and Highways during Telephone Town Hall Meeting

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May 21, 2015 | Robert Swift (202-225-3031) | comments

WASHINGTON – This week, First District Congressman Paul Ryan held a telephone town hall meeting with residents of Rock and Walworth County to take questions on important issues facing Congress.  During the call, he was asked explain his recent work to pass trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation through Congress.  He also took time to discuss the current state of the Highway Trust Fund and federal infrastructure.

In addition to listening sessions held throughout the First Congressional District, Congressman Ryan will hold telephone town hall meetings with constituents throughout the year to hear their concerns and answer their questions about federal issues.

Excerpts from Congressman Ryan’s responses during this week’s telephone town hall meeting follow.



A Better TPA

What trade promotion authority does is it creates a process under which Congress considers any trade agreement that the administration might negotiate.  In the past, they used to call this ‘fast track,’ and in the past I don’t think they did it the right way.  Because the president—whoever the president was—would go out and negotiate a trade agreement, bring it to Congress really fast, and then Congress would vote on it up or down—no questions asked.  That is not how we’re going to do it this time around. 

This trade promotion authority is very different now because we think we need to have a system that has more accountability and more transparency, and we want Congress to have more say-so in how trade agreements are being done.  We want to make sure a trade agreement doesn’t hold us to the standards of other countries, which could hurt our businesses and our workers.  Instead, we want to get other countries to rise to America’s standards.

Opening Markets for American Products

One of the reasons why we need to get trade agreements is because 95 percent of the world’s consumers don’t live in America—they live in other countries.  And if we want to have good jobs and good wages, if we want to have a good manufacturing sector and a good agricultural sector—which is really important to Wisconsin—we need to open markets to our products.  Not so that we outsource and make things in other countries, but so we can make things in America, grow things in America, and send them overseas and sell them overseas.

Part of the problem with trade these days is that all of these other countries are going around the world getting better trade agreements, and that ends up denying America access to these markets.  One example is Asia.  If we get a TPP that’s good—and we reserve judgment until we see the agreement, because it hasn’t even been negotiated yet—a good TPP says to these Asian countries, ‘You give us equal access to your markets that we give you to ours.  You give us fair trade, a level playing field, so that we can make things in America [and] sell them overseas.’  That’s what we’re trying to get, because one of the problems that we have already is that we already give these countries a lot of access to our markets. 

Trade Is Good for Jobs

One thing that’s really important is that one in five jobs in America are tied to trade. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living in other countries, we need to make more things here and sell them overseas.  And so that is why it’s important for us to open up markets to our products and level the playing field.  Not getting trade agreements is not a good idea for America. Because that means we lose markets, because that means other countries take over markets, and they sell their products.  What we want to do is open up markets to American products so we can make things here and sell them overseas, because these jobs pay more, and there are so many jobs tied to trade to begin with.

Stopping China

China is desperately trying to take away America’s ability to write the rules of the global economy.  They want to write the rules to meet China’s need, to help China.  I believe that it’s very much in our interest that we, along with our allies, write the rules on the global economy instead of China.  And you can’t do that if you don’t get trade agreements.  If you add up all the countries that we have trade agreements with, we have a trade surplus. We do better.  But if you add up all the countries we don’t have a trade agreement with, we have a big trade deficit.


The question is, how do you get better trade agreements for American workers so that we can keep more jobs here, make more things here, and sell them overseas?  And then how do you make sure America is leading the global economy, deciding the global economy, guiding the global economy, writing the rules of the global economy, instead of China doing it?  And that’s why I think it’s important that we get the details right.  This particular trade promotion authority says everybody in America needs to see what’s in it for at least 60 days before the president can even sign an agreement and send it to Congress.  And if Congress doesn’t like what the president negotiated, if Congress doesn’t like the way it works, then we can vote it down and we can take away trade promotion authority for the president on any given trade agreement.

TPA gives Congress the ability to dictate how trade agreements work, it gives Congress the final say on trade agreements, and it gives the public access to see what’s in these agreements before we even take a vote on them.



We Can’t Tax Our Way Out of This Problem

Our Highway Trust Fund is going bankrupt.  We’re not interested in raising gas taxes because we think the low gas prices that consumers are experiencing are good for the economy.  It’s good for people. It’s giving people more take home pay, and it’s giving us a foundation for our economy.  And because of new drilling technology, we’re becoming an enormous producer of oil and natural gas, and we’re helping knock OPEC off of its pedestal so that it doesn’t have the kind of influence over our economy and our gas prices that it once did.  And we want to encourage that development of oil and gas because it’s good for jobs. It means our money that we spend at the pump goes to our economy instead of foreign countries that don’t like us, and it means that we create jobs here in America.

By having lowering energy costs, you make American manufacturers more competitive, which leads to more manufacturing jobs.  And the problem for the gas tax as a funding resource for the highway trust fund is that it’s a dwindling revenue source.  And you really can’t really keep raising taxes to keep up with that fact.  And what I mean when I say that is look at engine technology.  Just look at engine technology, or look at how many miles to the gallon you got on a car that you bought 20 years ago versus the miles per gallon you get on your car today.  We’re far more efficient, our engines are more efficient, and some of our engines don’t even use gas.  And what’s happening is we don’t pay nearly as much in gas taxes as we used to, so you have a huge drop in revenues going to the Highway Trust Fund, for good reason.  We can’t just tax our way out of this problem.

Developing an Alternative

In the meantime, we’re coming up with alternative mechanisms to finance our infrastructure.  That’s one of my jobs as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to help come up with that mechanism.  But ultimately society has to come up with a new way of financing our infrastructure on a user-fee basis, because we’re all riding the road just as hard.  We all still need drive places, but we’re paying a whole lot less because our engines are more efficient.  So we’re trying to figure out a way of raising revenues on a user-fee basis, so that the user of the highway actually pays for the highway.  And that is something that we need to figure out, because if we just keep raising gas taxes it’s going to be self-defeating.  It’s going to take more money out of paychecks, it’s going to make manufacturing more expensive, and it hurts our ability to wrestle control of the international oil markets away from OPEC.  And so for those reasons and many others we’re trying to find another mechanism for financing our highways.

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