Emboldened conservatives press Ryan to bring hard-right immigration bill to floor
Ryan vows to offer ObamaCare replacement plan in 2016
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday he plans to roll out a long-awaited replacement plan for ObamaCare in 2016, lifting healthcare reform to the top of the House GOP's agenda in a presidential election year.
"There are many things to do, but most urgent is to repeal and replace ObamaCare," Ryan said. "We think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of ObamaCare."
Ryan's remarks were part of a sweeping speech he delivered in the Library of Congress's ornate Great Hall that touched on everything from tax reform and trade to poverty and the fight against Islamic State terrorists.
GOP aides billed it as his first major address since he was elected to succeed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in late October. And the former 2012 vice presidential candidate aimed to lay out a new vision and roadmap for how his party could win back the White House in 2016.
As with the ObamaCare fight, Ryan called on Republicans to put forth bold ideas and legislation rather than try to simply undo the last seven years of the Obama presidency. The GOP's top goal for 2016 should be to offer a "complete alternative to the left's agenda," he said.
"What it all comes down to is whether we conservatives have confidence in ourselves. Do we really believe our philosophy is true? Do we have the best ideas? If so, then I don't see any reason why we should hold back," Ryan said.
"Put together a positive agenda, and take it to the American people. Give people the choice they are yearning for. And if next year, this House can say we have done that, then we will have done our job."
Ryan delivered his remarks hours before the Senate was expected to take a key vote to repeal major ObamaCare provisions. It would mark the first time such a repeal would be sent to the president's desk, though President Obama has vowed to veto that bill.
GOP leaders, including the newly elected Speaker, have long been criticized for failing to produce legislation that could replace Obama's healthcare law.
Offering no specifics, the Speaker hinted that his plan would include tax credits that, like under ObamaCare, help people afford insurance. It would also repeal the individual and employer mandates at the heart of the law, which have been heavily criticized by conservatives.
Ryan, along with several other GOP committee chairman, began drafting a plan earlier this year when faced with the threat of an ObamaCare meltdown if the Supreme Court decided to strike down key parts of the law in King v. Burwell.
But once the law was upheld in June, Ryan and others said it became a problem for the next president.
While every Republican candidate for president has vowed to repeal ObamaCare, none have released specific details about how they would fully replace it.
In his speech to fellow lawmakers and key conservative thinkers, Ryan took aim at Obama, the man he tried to unseat in the 2012 race, saying the president and his party's strategy is to "slice and dice" the electorate and "demonize" the GOP.
Republicans, he warned, should not go down the same path.
"What we've seen these past seven years is the illusion of success," Ryan said. "The left may be good at tactics. But tactics are not solutions. They can win an election. But they can't win a mandate. They can make you popular. But they can't solve problems. They can help a party. But they can't save the country.
"So why in the world would we want to act that way?"
On policy, the former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee reiterated his call to overhaul the U.S. tax code by closing loopholes and consolidating the seven tax rates to just a few.
"The only way to fix our broken tax code is to simplify, simplify, simplify," Ryan said.
To fight rampant poverty in the country, Ryan wants to cut some of the 82 government-assistance programs and send federal dollars back to states so they can pursue their own solutions.
"Let states and communities try different ideas. And then test the results. I have found the poorest neighborhoods often are the most creative," the Speaker said. "They are full of entrepreneurs and innovators - people who really know how to fight poverty. ...
"And so this is the difference between the left and the right: They look at people in need and see a burden to bear, people to take care of. We look at people in need and see potential."
With ongoing terror threats from ISIS, Ryan said building a "21st century military" will mean more than simply pouring more money into the Pentagon. It will require reforming the military so it can quickly acquire new weapons and adapt to new threats.
"A strong America does not threaten the peace. A strong America is what protects the peace. Now we need to act like it," Ryan said. "ISIS is a serious threat. We need a strategy to defeat it."
Heritage Action opposed the highway funding and education reform bills Ryan shepherded through the House this week. But the outside conservative group's chief executive, Michael A. Needham, praised Ryan's speech on Thursday.
"Heritage Action strongly supports Speaker Ryan's commitment to lay out a bold agenda showing how conservative solutions can make life better for all Americans," said Needham, who attended the address. "We agree with him that saving America will require an electoral mandate, not just electoral victory."
- This story was updated at 1:57 p.m.