Ryan tiptoes around deficit concerns for 2017 legislation

Ryan tiptoes around deficit concerns for 2017 legislation
© Greg Nash

PHILADELPHIA — Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE (R-Wis.) on Thursday declined to promise that Republican-passed legislation in 2017 would not add to the federal deficit but argued his agenda will help avert a national debt crisis in the future.

The fiscal impact of President Trump’s ambitious agenda, which includes slashing tax rates, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and making a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, has stirred concerns among fiscal conservatives in Congress.

The budget worries of GOP lawmakers could prove a significant obstacle to Trump having a smooth working relationship with Capitol Hill. The issue may come to a head in the next few months when lawmakers will be asked to raise the federal debt ceiling.

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Asked if he could provide reassurance that congressional actions in 2017 would not, in net effect, add to the deficit, Ryan, who has long pushed for fiscal reforms, declined to do so.

But he said that his party’s top two legislative priorities for the year — repealing and replacing ObamaCare and reforming the tax code — would improve the nation’s fiscal health over the long term.

“There are two things that we can do this year that we think will move us in a great direction on fiscal policy,” he told reporters at the annual joint Senate-House GOP retreat.

“If we can help fix healthcare, bring more choice and more competition so we have better quality and lower costs and lower prices, that would dramatically help improve our budget situation,” he said.

The other thing, he said, is tax reform, which Republicans believe will spur economic growth and ultimately increase the flow of revenues to the U.S. treasury.

Ryan envisions a more business-friendly environment with higher job growth that will get people off welfare and paying taxes as newly-employed workers.

“We need these people working for the sake of them in our communities and that means we [would] have more people working, more people paying taxes, faster economic growth, more revenues,” he said.

Ryan laid out these arguments during a private meeting with Senate and House lawmakers Wednesday to prepare the groundwork for a vote raising the debt ceiling, expected this spring.

He told reporters Thursday that he doesn’t know when precisely Congress will need to expand the government’s borrowing authority, which is capped at about $20.1 billion.

“We will in consultation with the Treasury secretary find out when they anticipate penetration of the debt ceiling and that’s something we’re going to deal with at that time,” he said.

Ryan has proceeded cautiously on two of Trump’s biggest initiatives, infrastructure investment and the border wall.

At Trump’s request, Ryan included Trump’s infrastructure investment plan on the 200-day agenda he presented to colleagues on Wednesday but didn’t put an estimated cost on the proposal.

The president has called for a $1 trillion investment but other Republicans, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE (R-Ky.), have warned against passing a massive stimulus package similar to President Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Ryan, however, signaled Thursday that its cost would be offset.

“We are fiscal conservatives. If we’re going to be spending on things like infrastructure, we’re going to find the fiscal space to pay for that in our spring budget,” he said.

Ryan did not say whether the cost of the U.S.-Mexico border wall would also be offset with spending cuts or higher tax revenues. GOP leaders estimate it will cost between $12 billion and $15 billion, although independent analysts say the price tag could reach as high as $25 billion.

He said it would be financed with a supplemental appropriations measure.

“As far as the offset, we’re going to wait and see what the supplemental looks like. I’m not going to get ahead a policy and a bill that has not been written yet,” he said.

“But the point is we’re going to finance the Secure Fence Act, which is the construction of the physical barrier on the border.”

Trump has promised that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for the massive project.