The practical upshot from the chaos in the House GOP with Orange Julius now gone and Paul Ryan now Speaker of the House is that the Austerity Death Star will soon be fully operational.
The Wisconsin Republican who claimed the gavel last week is one of Congress’ preeminent tax experts, an ardent advocate of rewriting the code with lots of ideas on how to do it. Over the years, he’s gone further than most lawmakers in pushing politically fraught changes that have gone nowhere, such as wiping out a major tax break for employer-provided health plans and making it harder for the wealthy to claim the hugely popular mortgage-interest deduction.
But now Ryan has far more power to put the issue on Washington’s agenda — and the latest budget deal between congressional leaders and the White House should give him ample room to launch his speakership without being distracted by constant battles over funding the government and raising the debt limit. So some advocates are recalibrating the odds of a long-elusive tax overhaul that they say could spur new jobs and bring corporate money back from overseas.
Sweeping tax change won’t happen this year, supporters say, with lawmakers still staring at a stack of unfinished business — or next year, when the 2016 election will loom even larger. But they say it’s suddenly a lot more likely in the early years of the next presidency, especially if the Republicans win the White House.
“It certainly comes as close to guaranteeing it as possible,” said a top Republican staffer. “It’s his No. 1 priority — it’s what he cares about most.”
The sort of ambitious reform Ryan has in mind, which would be the first since 1986, promises to cut both individual and corporate tax rates in exchange for junking scores of credits, deductions and other special provisions. Any rewrite would be hugely controversial, with an array of powerful interest groups sure to line up to defend their favorite provisions, not to mention many Democrats who’ve long complained that Ryan’s plans amount to a giveaway to the rich.
In a speech to the House just before his swearing-in Thursday, Ryan named tax reform as one of his top priorities.
It was bad enough when the Ryan Austerity Budget was a club used to get sequestration into play in 2013. But as Speaker, Ryan now has significant power as far as bringing his austerity monster to life. If you still had questions as to what’s at stake a year from now, better hope the GOP doesn’t have the keys to both Congress and the White House when Congress gets called into session in January 2017.
Otherwise, the Austerity Death Star is going to do a pretty good job of blowing America up.