Paul Ryan has regrets.
The retiring Republican House speaker who spent the last two years ignoring almost everything President Donald Trump has said and done to get a massive corporate tax cut passed, says leaving immigration and the national debt unaddressed are his “two regrets I wish we could have gotten done,” in a live-streamed interview with the Washington Post’s Paul Kane.
Immigration and the debt. Oh boy. Let’s explain some of Ryan’s regrets.
Paul Ryan’s beloved tax reform law ballooned the deficit
First, the debt. Republicans have spent decades sounding the alarm about the growing deficit and national debt, which they say will eventually lead to the nation’s economic demise. It’s Ryan’s biggest and most consistent rallying cry.
But under his leadership, the deficit, which is the difference between how much tax revenue the federal government brings in and how much it spends, is on track to hit $1 trillion in 2019. The laws enacted in the last year will add $2.4 trillion to the national debt by 2027.
There are two main reasons the deficit is ballooning right now: First is that Republicans changed the tax laws, permanently cutting the corporate tax rate by 15 percent and temporarily cutting the individual rates. In 2018, the federal government’s revenue was only up 0.4 percent — one of the lowest growth rates in half a century.
The slow revenue rate is in large part due to the tax bill, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group that advocates for fiscal responsibility. Taking inflation into account, federal revenues were actually down between 4 to 9 percent this year because of the tax cuts.
The CBO has already estimated these cuts will cost $1.46 trillion over 10 years — or roughly $1 trillion when adjusted for economic growth — and increase the deficit by $164 billion in 2018 alone. The law is projected to add another $230 billion to the deficit next year.
The other reason the deficit rose: The government increased how much it was spending. Republicans agreed to a massive budget deal this year to give the military the biggest funding boost in history. To compromise with Democrats, the budget deal also hiked funding for domestic programs.
Ryan doesn’t blame the tax cuts, of course, as they are his biggest accomplishment in Congress, something he has been working toward for decades.
Instead, almost immediately after passing the tax bill, Ryan sounded the alarm about an out-of-control deficit problem by calling for cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps.
The pivot doesn’t change the reality that cutting taxes and giving the military a funding boost is much easier than cutting programs America’s oldest and poorest citizens rely on.
So Ryan is left with regret.
Paul Ryan has stopped any meaningful action on immigration
Second, immigration. The week before Donald Trump was inaugurated, Ryan looked a DREAMer and her child in the eyes and told them not to worry about being deported.
“I hope your future is here,” he said at CNN town hall. “We have to find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law. ... If you’re worried about, you know, some deportation force knocking on your door this year, don’t worry about that.”
Then the Trump administration got to work implementing a hardline immigration agenda that’s sowed terror in immigrant communities across the country. Officials implemented a travel ban, announced ending protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (a decision halted in the courts), drastically cut the number of refugees allowed into the United States, made it harder for migrants to claim asylum, and implemented a zero-tolerance policy at the border separating thousands of migrant children from their families, some of which will likely become permanently estranged.
All along, Ryan pledged that Republicans were “willing to work together in good faith on immigration” policy. In reality, he was actively avoiding the issue altogether.
Immigration policy is difficult, and it’s particularly difficult for Republicans like Ryan who have spent their whole lives being pro-immigration, and now have to stand behind a president who seems exclusively interested in building massive concrete walls on American borders.
For two years, Republicans have been at an impasse over the future of DACA, asylum, and border security — tensions that have grown over the last decade.
The White House, which espouses a hardline anti-immigration worldview, is pushing an unpopular position; it proposed a slew of conservative reforms to almost every arm of the immigration system, legal and illegal, in exchange for a partial and less-than-certain path to citizenship for DREAMers, which didn’t have nearly enough support in Congress, let alone among Republicans, to become law.
So Ryan stalled, saying both that he would only allow votes on legislation that Trump would sign, and only allow negotiations on legislation that had no chance of passing the Senate, where it would need bipartisan support.
There’s a world in which Congress could pass immigration reform.
If centrist Republicans banded together with centrist Democrats, they could likely come up with a proposal to protect the 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants who have lived in this country since they were children, a.k.a. DREAMers, from deportation. For something to become law, Senate and House leaders would have to prioritize bipartisanship. And Republican leaders would have to make the case to the president, just like they do with their spending bills and budget deals.
After all, there’s overwhelming support for DREAMers; 86 percent of Americans think they should be allowed to stay in the United States. Meanwhile, 79 percent of Americans think the country needs secure borders, as opposed to open ones, but only 37 percent of Americans support substantially expanding the US-Mexico border wall, according to a Pew Report.
Instead, Ryan has offered his regrets.