Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday doubled down on a vow to reform the tax code this year, an optimistic timeline that could face headwinds amid the ongoing Russia investigations.
The Wisconsin Republican, a policy wonk eager to show voters that Congress is still focused on the GOP agenda, chafed at a question about whether tax reform would slip beyond 2017.
“I don’t think this is the case,” Ryan said at a news conference. “Our goal, and I believe we can meet this goal, is calendared 2017 for tax reform. And I think we’re making good progress.”
Ryan’s timeline, however, is optimistic, to say the least. Republicans in January, for instance, initially thought they’d get an Obamacare repeal bill to the president’s desk by mid-April. It’s now mid-May and the bill has yet to get far in the Senate.
What’s more, the unraveling scandal surrounding President Donald Trump’s relationship with has sucked up all the energy in Washington. Lawmakers have been forced to respond to allegations that Trump tried to pressure the FBI into dropping an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, or shared classified information with Russian officials — questions they hardly want to answer.
GOP insiders hope that the Justice Department’s move appointing a special prosecutor to take over the case will take the heat off them for a while, allowing leaders to focus on policy.
During his news conference, Ryan also gave a full-throated endorsement of his controversial border adjustment tax proposal, which essentially hikes taxes on imports in an attempt to get companies to keep their headquarters in the U.S.
The White House and Senate have been extremely lukewarm to the idea, which is intended to free up $1 trillion to lower tax rates for businesses and individuals but could drive up the price of goods when businesses pass the tax on to consumers.
Many privately have predicted that Ryan will drop his push for border adjustment. That, however, doesn’t appear to be the case — at least not yet.
“I obviously think border adjustment is the smart way to go,” Ryan said. “I think it makes the tax code the most internationally competitive of any other version we’re looking at. And I think it removes all tax incentives for a firm to move … their production overseas.”
Ryan also argued that “if you’re not going to do border adjustment, you have to look at the alternatives to that.” Those “alternatives,” which would be axed to reduce tax rates, are breaks for various business industries. Eliminating them would rev up lobbyists fighting tooth and nail to maintain their clients’ tax credits or deductions.
That could prove just as unpalatable to critics of border adjustment, or worse.