Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) announcement that he would not seek reelection has many Democrats gleeful that this portends a wave election for them in November. But Democrats still have a very steep hill to climb to convince the American people that they deserve to wield the speaker’s gavel again.
Americans are starting to see their own economic circumstances improve after years of stagnant wages and economic uncertainty. The passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act last year is a vital achievement not just for Republican politicians, for whom tax reform loomed as their big white whale for a generation, but for Americans who have long wanted and voted for advocates of a tax overhaul and are now, at long last, experiencing the benefits of reform.
The typical American family of four is expected to see more than $2,000 in tax relief in 2018 thanks to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. This doesn't include the deluge of expanded benefits and bonuses that companies continue to dole out to their workers in the wake of the tax bill. To date, over 500 companies have rewarded their employees with increased pay, bonuses or benefits since the beginning of the year.
The Democrat reaction to these bonuses reveals why Democrats are not in a position to play offense in November. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is still in line to take the speaker’s gavel if Democrats win back the House (though many in her party understandably question if she's really best for the job), famously scoffed at the announcement that workers were receiving $1,000 bonuses because of tax reform, calling those benefits “crumbs.”
While elites in the Democratic Party may believe a four-figure payout is crumbs, Americans across the country who have struggled to get ahead think otherwise. In fact, over half of Americans have less than that amount in savings. Since Pelosi’s comments, Americans have also begun to enjoy bigger paychecks and higher take-home pay thanks to withholding changes due to tax reform.
The benefits of tax reform — including the major reduction in corporate tax rates — will continue to kick in and will pay more economic dividends throughout the year. The changes made to our international tax law encourage investment here at home, and the reduction in the corporate income tax rate from a distinctively high 35 percent to 21 percent augurs a drastic transition for American commerce. American companies are now poised to bring back profits that have sat dormant overseas for years. If the EU pursues a foolhardy proposal to implement additional taxes on American digital companies, Speaker Ryan’s legacy of making the United States the best place to do business will be all the more pronounced.
Republican lawmakers who are tempted to wring their hands over Ryan’s departure should be laser focused on emphasizing the benefits of the conservative economic policy they have achieved under his leadership — and their plan to recommitted to moving forward with the conservative agenda when they return to Congress next year. Republicans have been very clear about their vision for a prosperous America. This, too, is the Paul Ryan legacy.
In 2016, when Paul Ryan became speaker, the House Republican Conference was a little battered and bruised. It was a body for whom the muscle of consensus-building had atrophied, a deterioration that led them to regard John Boehner, the speaker who banished earmarks and erased the discretionary spending legacy of President Barack Obama, as insufficiently conservative.
The conference was stung not just by the intra-party leadership jockeying it endured, but by the lingering question of what it could accomplish as a body of diverse proclivities and preferences. So Speaker Ryan embarked on a mission to build agreement amongst his members on what Republicans stood for.
The eventual product of this exercise, known as the Better Way agenda, was a product of months of listening sessions and working groups, where members from every corner of the conference made progress on distilling vague ideas about principles down into tangible policy proposals.
One Better Way pillar served as the blueprint for tax reform. Deregulation, another core theme, has been an initiative the Trump administration has undertaken wholeheartedly – it claims that for every new regulation authored under its watch during fiscal year 2017, 22 have been repealed.
Republicans should stay focused on these principles and commit to moving forward to make progress on spending, entitlements, and welfare and health care reforms as the next steps to enacting the conservative vision.
Democrats may believe they have a winning strategy of running their congressional campaigns against the president and believe Ryan’s retirement lets them double down on this posture. But it does not tell the American people what future they want to build for the country, and how they intend to do it. Americans are better off now than they were a year ago, and have no reason to believe that trend won’t continue under Republican leadership. Democrats have not supported the policies improving Americans’ circumstances — and that is true no matter who is speaker.