Newly re-elected Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan joined me this morning:
HH: Speaker Ryan, welcome, congratulations on your reelection as Speaker, great to have you.
PR: Hey, how are you doing, Hugh? Sorry, I was just working on getting through the phone line here.
HH: Oh, that’s okay. Let me ask you, are you up to speed on dabbing now after that little…
PR: Yes, I do now know what it is. My kids informed me of it.
HH: And were they embarrassed by the father not knowing what dabbing was?
PR: Well, my 12 year old does it, but he does it with two arms.
PR: I wasn’t sure what the kid was doing at first. It threw me off a little bit.
HH: It was very funny.
PR: I went with it for a few clicks, and then like all right, let’s get serious here. Your dad’s getting his, it’s first time he’s ever been sworn in for Congress, you know?
HH: All right, Mr. Speaker, before we get to serious stuff, the NFL announced that the Packers are on the road against the Browns next year. Are you worried?
PR: (laughing) Sorry, that was a serious question, wasn’t it?
HH: (laughing) You know, they shouldn’t even call the NFC…
PR: You know, look, God love them. God love the Browns, you know? Great city, all those things, but…
HH: I’m telling you, I’ve got four on the 50 on the top row standing offer next year when the Pack comes to Cleveland. Let’s get serious here.
PR: Let me give you one number real quick, 126. That was Aaron Rodgers’ quarterback rating against the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.
HH: I am really, so you’re confident against the Giants this weekend?
PR: I feel good about it. I went to the last two Giant-Packer games. They were nice, cold Lambeau, perfect settings, and we lost. So Eli has lit us up in Lambeau the last two times we met in the playoffs, and then they went on to win the Super Bowl. You know, I think it depends on whether Eli’s on fire or not, but I think Aaron Rodgers is really hot. We’ve got a problem with cornerbacks. We don’t have any more. They’re all hurt. So if we can get our defensive backfield put together, I think we’re going to be fine.
HH: All right, preemptive defensiveness there, Mr. Speaker. But I’m warning you about next year right now.
PR: All right, you got it.
HH: All right, let’s get serious. The President-Elect this morning tweeted out that Julian Assange says that we, that the DNC, I just had Boris on. Should the President-Elect be quoting Julian Assange, Mr. Speaker?
PR: Look, I’m not going to get into what, the last thing I’m going to do is start commenting on every little tweet or Facebook post. That is just not what I do with the President-Elect or when he’s president. I think he has not received his Russia briefing, yet. I believe that is scheduled for Friday. So hopefully, he’ll get up to speed on what has been happening, and what Russia has or has not done. And he’ll be better informed on that.
HH: Then let me ask you what your opinion is of Julian Assange.
PR: I really have none, other than I think the guy is a sycophant for Russia. He leaks, he steals data, and compromises national security.
HH: And he’s wanted on a rape charge.
PR: Yeah, right, and I think he’s under house arrest, or he’s, isn’t he in the Ecuadorian embassy?
PR: And for like the last four years? Yeah.
HH: It’s just a crazy thing. Okay, let’s get serious about what’s ahead. You’ve got a retreat coming up. I’ve got a brand new book out, The Fourth Way. I hope you are assigning The Fourth Way to every member of your caucus.
PR: If you provide one, we will.
HH: We will get it to you.
PR: All right.
HH: And its basic message is go big, go fast, go far.
PR: That’s our plan.
HH: Is that your intention for the first 100 days?
PR: Absolutely, no, the first 200 days. We are mapping out what the typical legislative calendar is January through August before we have the “August recess”. We are mapping out, we’re working with our friends in the Senate and the Trump transition team our January through August strategy to go big and to go bold and to implement our agenda that we all ran on and all agree upon. The big things that you know about, repealing and replacing Obamacare, fundamental tax reform, rebuilding our budget, which helps us rebuild our military, fixing the regulatory state, which is a stranglehold on jobs, working on getting people from welfare to work, all of those kinds of things, the infrastructure package, which is something that President-Elect Trump added to our agenda, which we’re happy to do, all of those things are the big, bold agenda that we’re going to be working on. Right now, we, I’m bringing an Israel resolution to the floor on Friday, I think it is, yeah, Friday or Thursday. So we’re already up and running here in the House. Next week, the Senate’s already going to be moving on the Obamacare repeal legislation, the repeal budget. Then, we’re going to be bringing it through here after they’re done so that we are already working on this before President Trump becomes, goes from President-Elect Trump to President Trump. So we’re working on the exact thing you’re talking about – big, bold, do it now. This is a great opportunity. The American people are waiting for these reforms. They’re hungry for these kinds of reforms, and it’s our job to deliver.
HH: Now let’s talk some specifics, Speaker Ryan. How big of an infrastructure investment will there be on the table?
PR: Well, I don’t know the answer to that, yet. No one knows the answer to that, yet. That deals with how our budget will work and their spring budget. It also will be focused on leveraging private sector dollars so that it’s not just the public sector taxpayer, the taxpayer that’s on the hook. But we’re trying to do our best to streamline regulations so that the transportation dollars stretch as far as possible, and leveraging private sector dollars so private sector money can be part of the solution instead of always just thinking that this is government only. So those are the kinds of innovative reforms we’re going to be working on between now and our spring budget, which is where we believe we will be able to address the infrastructure issue.
HH: Now when President Obama took office, I read about this in The Fourth Way. He got $831 billion. It’s gone. It’s missing. Nobody knows where that…
PR: Yeah, that was, that was just a blow, that stimulus, first of all, there are no such things as shovel-ready jobs. Second of all, it was mostly just a liberal wish list, spending list that they funded.
HH: So should he get at least 10% of what President Obama got, because I think he could do a hundred times as much with 10% of the money.
PR: Yeah, that’s right, because if you, if it’s done correctly, but more importantly, look, I’m not a Keynesian. I believe that tax reform and regulatory relief are really the key, critical components of our economic growth agenda. And just spending more money in Washington is really not the secret to growing the economy and creating jobs. If it were, we wouldn’t have a jobs problem. This place has been spending plenty of money. I do believe we have a problem with infrastructure, and that needs to be addressed. And infrastructure is critical for the foundation of economic growth so we can get goods and services, you know, moving through our economy. But to suggest that the size of a spending package in Washington will determine how much growth we get in the economy, I just reject the whole premise of that question.
HH: Is the sequester as applied to the Pentagon dead?
PR: Yeah, it is dead. We’ve already been, it’s effectively dead, and we have to make sure that we actually replace it legally. So effectively, it’s dead, because we’ve been working on replacement legislation. We’ve passed, I negotiated a deal four years ago with Patty Murray, which killed it for two years. We then, my predecessor, John Boehner, did another agreement which replaced it. This year, we will rebuild the entire Pentagon budget. That is our plan. We had a great Defense authorization bill that our chairman, Mac Thornberry, wrote, well on our way. We’re waiting for the new administration so that we won’t have a president holding the military hostage for a domestic spending agenda, which is what we’ve had for the last eight years. We’ll have a president that’s serious about real fiscal restraint and honoring our country’s primary federal responsibility, which is our military. Rebuilding our military is a critical part of our first 200 day agenda. And that is what is going to be a big component of our budget this year.
HH: Speaker Ryan, President Trump promised a 350 ship Navy. Pardon the pun. Are you on board with that?
PR: Yeah, I’ve always believed that. 313 is what I was pushing back in 2012, and the situation has changed, so that number sounds about right to me.
HH: So if we put all these things on the table – infrastructure investment, the military rebuild, I’m going to come to tax and entitlement reform. Why not also put on an immigration overhaul? Is that possible?
PR: That’s not part of our plan. We want to focus on securing the border. And that’s what the President-Elect has asked us to focus on, and we agree with that. So right now, it is about border security. He ran on it. It was a prominent factor in the campaign. Most Republicans in the House and the Senate ran on border security, so we’re going to focus on securing the border. Look, this is a pretty aggressive agenda right now. It’s getting Obamacare repealed and replaced. It’s doing fundamental tax reform, overhauling the entire regulatory system, which is killing jobs, security the border, rebuilding the military and our infrastructure. All those things in one year in Congress would make this the most productive Congress in any of our lives.
HH: I agree with that, but I think President Trump can do a Nixon to China on immigration. And if that gets mixed in, you’ll bring some Democrats along with you. Do you have any hope of Democrats working with you on all of this agenda other than perhaps the infrastructure investment and maybe immigration reform?
PR: Some of this. I think on tax reform, I think Democrats also know that our tax code is just crushing jobs and growth. We are pushing American businesses overseas because of our tax laws. We’ve got to reform and overhaul our tax laws. So I keep hearing from Democrats who just come up to me individually and say that that’s something they want to work on. I think rebuilding the military, as you mentioned, I think infrastructure, and then on a case by case basis on regulations, I think we’re going to have Democrats working with us. I think Democrats from coal states, for example, will vote with us on rolling back these horrible Obamacare coal regulations. Basically, what the Obama administration tried doing on the way out the door here is kill any form of energy other than, you know, the subsidies for solar and wind, which we actually are getting rid of over a five year period here. That’s what, I think, not every Democrat agrees with. So we will have Democrats from energy producing states, I think, vote with us on some of the regulatory overhauls so that we can make our country the energy powerhouse that it can and should be.
HH: The Congressional Review Act provides for getting rid of regulations passed in the last year.
HH: Do you expect that to move quickly? And how much of this binge of regulation writing can you get rid of?
PR: Yeah, that’s what I basically am referring to with I think we’ll get Democrat votes. We’re going to do, we call it the CRA, the Congressional Review Act. We’re going to do that very quickly. We’ve got some coal ones that are coming up in the queue very quickly. It’s called the stream buffer rule, which basically the Obama administration’s attempt on the way out the door to just kill the entire coal industry, which even if you’re not a coal producing state, if you come from a state like mine, Wisconsin, over 60% of our electricity, our power, comes from coal. So it affects so many families, so many businesses, so much manufacturing. I think we’ll get a lot of votes on that. These take time to pass through the Senate, so we have to pick our fights wisely. And we are now coordinating with the Senate and the administration, the incoming administration, which ones go first, second, third and on and on, and then which regulatory problems can the President deal with unilaterally? A lot of this stuff came through Obama’s phone and the pen. That means Trump’s phone and pen can undo a lot of what the Obama administration did. So that’s the analysis we’re going through right now. What can he do that was just unilateral by Obama that we can undo, like locking up a millions of acres of oil exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf? That was not permanent. We’re very clear about that. So that’s the kind of analysis – what can he do when he takes his hand off the Bible and becomes president? What can a new cabinet secretary do? And then what is it that Congress needs to do? And then what order will we do that in? That is exactly the analysis that we’re going through right now.
HH: One thing you have to do is replace Obamacare. You’re going to repeal it, but it has to be replaced.
HH: Now the debate is we’ll come up with a replacement in three years. I think that’s a horrible idea. I want to see what you guys are going to do. I want a map.
PR: People have already seen what our replace it. Go to www.better.gop if you want to take a look at our replace. We’re, Tom Price at HHS is probably the single most qualified person to run that department simply because he has been the main architect of our replacement legislation in the House. He understands the budget, and he’s an orthopedic surgeon who spent the better part of his adult life in the health care field. So we already know what we’re replacing with. We’ve been extremely clear with what replace looks like. And as soon as he can get over there at HHS, he can begin to immediately give regulatory relief so that we can start bringing prices down. The reason Obamacare costs so much and there are so fewer choices is because it’s a government takeover of health care. So we can immediately bring some relief by reducing that government takeover, and then pass the kind of legislation we need to bring more choices, more competition, and get lower prices, and stop the government from mandating what everybody must do with their lives as with respect to health care.
HH: Will that replacement occur in the first 200 days?
HH: Because a lot of the conversation is about postponing this for three years. That’s a terrible idea.
PR: No, that’s, yeah, those are just phase-in dates for certain situations. And we’re learning with the insurance industry in various states what they need, what kind of timeline they need. But no, we will have, our goal is to have all of our legislating done within the first 200 days on this and many other issues, and Obamacare included.
HH: Now let’s talk about tax reform. Yesterday, we had a nasty surprise with the Office of Congressional Ethics. I hate that office, because it’s unconstitutional and abuses due process. But it was surprise, and therefore, it was bad politics. If tax reform has surprises in it, the same thing will happen.
HH: How transparent will tax reform be?
PR: Yeah, this, that, that’s really an apples to orange comparison, so I would not apply that kind of comparison, this OCE thing with tax reform. The Ways And Means Committee has been working on this for a number of years. I used to chair the committee. We’ve already put our blueprint up on the web. You could have read it for basically the past year. And now, the committee is going through the painstaking process of flushing out all of the details. This will be done in regular order through the Ways and Means Committee, through the regular legislative process, and done as part of our spring budget.
HH: Will the home mortgage interest deduction be left alone, Mr. Speaker?
PR: Hugh, I’m not going to get into all these details. I’m not going to get into the nickety nack of what’s in or what’s out of a tax reform bill that is working its way through the legislative process.
HH: But there are three bigs, and we all know what those are.
PR: You and I, how many times have you and I had this conversation about the mortgage interest deduction?
HH: (laughing) Because I am worried about 1.2 million National Association of Realtor members coming, becoming your enemy on the first day.
PR: Right. Right.
HH: So this is a terrible idea that I just always use my opportunity.
PR: If you take a look at the blueprint, it maintains the mortgage interest deduction.
HH: But capping it…
PR: Just go, go read our plan. Go read the blueprint we have.
HH: I have read it. It’s in the book. It’s in The Fourth Way. Let me ask you about a couple of things which are below the radar, Mr. Speaker. When Harry Reid packed the DC Circuit, he made regulatory reform very difficult, because all of those liberal judges defer to the agencies. Would you consider expanding the DC Circuit so that President Trump can add judges and restore balance to that circuit?
PR: You know, I haven’t given thought to that. I have not given any thought to that. I don’t know the answer to your question. I don’t know that…
PR: I don’t know that that’s being considered. What I would do is first of all, we’re passing our bill, we’ve got a bill overturning the Chevron deference doctrine. We think that’s extremely important, which is what you’re talking about.
PR: That’s stems from the Chevron ruling.
PR: And we’re passing legislation that we think addresses that particular issue.
HH: Well, if you expand the DC Circuit, we’ll at least have a fighting shot of having that legislation upheld, because there’s a Constitutional argument….
HH: Secondly, the 9th Circuit is a nightmare.
HH: Doug Ducey and others want to split it. Are you open to doing that early?
PR: That’s a terrible circuit. Everybody should just move to Wisconsin.
PR: (laughing) We’ve got a better circuit.
HH: Yes, you do, but I live out here. I need…
PR: Yeah, I know you do. That’s just a crazy place. I’m sorry, I’m just joking with you. You know, again, I’m not going to get into territory that I’ve not even discussed adding to circuit courts, so I just don’t have an answer for you on that.
HH: All right, my last court question, the Chief Justice has argued for years we lose great judges, including originalists, because they’re not paid. Judicial pay has to go up, Mr. Speaker.
PR: I have heard this so many times from judges.
HH: Are you…
PR: Again, that’s not something that’s on our agenda. That’s not something we’re looking at, is raising the pay of judges. It’s just not something we have in store.
HH: But can you be persuaded to it, because if we put all these great originalists on, then they leave and they get replaced by the next, you know, Democratic administration. That’s why President Obama had 360 judges that they can’t afford college.
PR: I’ll tell you what. I’ll plan on giving you Bob Goodlatte and Chuck Grassley’s phone number. They’re the guys who are in charge of the Judiciary Committees.
HH: All right, but you’re not opposed to it?
PR: I haven’t given it any thought.
HH: All right, let me move to Medicaid. I know in the Better Way, you talk about bloc grants. Will that happen in the first 200 days?
PR: Yeah, that’s part of our…
HH: Do you think Medicaid…
PR: That is part of our Obamacare plan – giving the governors and the states the flexibility to craft better solutions for Medicaid that pertain to their particular states. When this, when we’ve had some waiver flexibility, say, Indiana and Wisconsin, we’ve been able to craft great reforms. So we think giving the states more control over Medicaid is a critical secret to making this program work. A lot of doctors don’t even take Medicaid anymore. It’s not serving the poor very well. And we believe the laboratories of democracy are states, of innovation. They are the ones who should take point on reforming Medicaid.
HH: Social Security Disability Insurance is bankrupt. And it has gone from 7 million recipients to 14 million recipients in ten years. Is reform of SSDI part of our package in 200 days?
PR: It is, and we’ve already got some reform in place. We put a, I did this when I was over at Ways and Means. We extended the solvency of, we call it OASDI, and we put in place a pilot project to make it easier for a person who is on disability to go to work and without losing immediately all of their disability benefits. We had this benefit cliff that really dis-incentivizes a person who can go to work in another profession than what they were in where they became disabled from. So we think getting people a smoother pathway and an incentive to work and get off disability is really the secret to success. We have a new demonstration project to prove this concept. We want to prove this concept, then we want to build it out nationwide.
HH: All right, I want to close by talking about the corporate tax rate, because everyone agrees it’s nightmarish in the United States. In my book, I’m proposing a two-step, a very low rate for a very brief period of time in order to encourage repatriation of these profits. How low do you think it does? Are you in favor of a two-step or a one-step?
PR: Well, I think as I understand what you’re saying, we believe it should be in the same bill, which is the repatriation should be a part of comprehensive tax reform. It actually helps pay for comprehensive tax reform.
PR: …while you lower the overall corporate rates. So there’s two rates you’re talking about here. There’s the corporate rate, which is what, you know, corporations pay, and then there’s what you’re describing as the repatriation rate which would be even lower than that corporate rate, and that is basically what we believe, that’s what our plan is.
HH: How low do you think the repatriation rate will go?
PR: The one-time replacement rate that we have in our bill is an average of 5.25%.
HH: Wow. That’s better than I thought. That’s great. I hope you do that.
PR: Yeah, there’s complicated details. You go a higher tax rate on cash and cash equivalent money, and a lower tax rate on illiquid assets like buildings. So basically, the average rate is about 5.25%.
HH: All right, well…
PR: You bring that over, that actually helps us pay for tax reform.
HH: Yeah, it’s extraordinarily important. Let me close where there is disagreement between apparently Team Trump and the House Republicans on trade. You know, Smoot-Hawley, everybody knows it caused the Depression, or at least it prolonged the Depression.
HH: Do you think we’re headed towards a Smoot-Hawley era?
PR: No. No, we’re not going to be raising tariffs. We think tax reform is the better way of addressing imbalances, leveling the playing field without starting trade wars, without having the adverse effects that you get with protectionism or trade wars. We think leveling the playing field on taxes, reducing the cost on American businesses by reducing regulatory costs, health care costs, that’s the secret to making American businesses more competitive, not raising prices or raising tariffs, but lowering the costs and leveling the playing field.
HH: Yeah, Mr. Speaker, thanks for joining us. I leave you with this. Please don’t touch the mortgage interest deduction, the state interest deduction.
HH: It’s a nightmare politically.
PR: You can buy a whole lot more house in Wisconsin, Hugh. Just give it a thought.
HH: I know, that’s not the right. Okay, come back another time, Mr. Speaker.
PR: All right. I’ve got to go.
HH: Great to talk to you. Thank you.
PR: All right, Hugh. Take care.
End of interview.