New Speaker Paul Ryan pledged Thursday that the House will finally come up with a replacement for President Barack Obama's healthcare law and attempt to overhaul the tax code, as he committed the GOP to a "bold, pro-growth agenda" for 2016 and beyond.
"Our No. 1 goal for the next year is to put together a complete alternative to the left's agenda," the Wisconsin Republican said at the Library of Congress in what aides billed as his first major address as speaker. "We will not be cowed. We are not here to smooth things over. We are here to shake things up."
Although short on new ideas and lacking specifics, Ryan's speech made clear that he has no desire to hang back and play a supporting role to the GOP's presidential nominee next year. Ryan himself was the party's vice presidential nominee in 2012.
And the former House Budget Committee chairman who's proposed slashing Medicaid and converting Medicare into a voucher-like program also suggested he is more interested in promulgating a GOP vision than in finding common ground with Obama.
"Even if he won't sign them into law, we will put out specific proposals and give the people a real choice," Ryan said.
Ryan replaced former Speaker John Boehner of Ohio just over a month ago after Boehner resigned under pressure from House conservatives. Initially reluctant to take on the job of speaker, Ryan agreed to do so after it became clear he was the only House Republican with widespread support from his colleagues.
Thus far, Ryan still seems to be enjoying a honeymoon but that will be tested by a Dec. 11 deadline to pass a package of spending bills or face a partial government shutdown.
Ryan privately told lawmakers Thursday that he views the massive spending package now being finalized as a "crap sandwich," according to Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.). But he is urging them to swallow it and make a fresh start next year, Salmon said.
And even as he negotiates with Democrats over the spending legislation, Ryan launched broadsides against Obama.
"I don't think all that many people are walking away from this presidency thinking, 'That went well,'" Ryan said. "We still have enormous problems. But now the country is divided. And the federal government has grown arrogant, condescending, and outright paternalistic."
Republicans have promised but failed to coalesce around a replacement to "Obamacare" since it became law more than five years ago. Instead, they've voted dozens of times to replace it in part or in full, an effort happening again Thursday in the Senate. Ryan committed once again to finally coming up with a GOP alternative. "We think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare," he said.
On taxes, Ryan called for eliminating loopholes and collapsing down to two or three rates. "The only way to fix our broken tax code is to simplify, simplify, simplify," he said.
Thursday's speech was laced with familiar conservative, free-market solutions to the nation's ills that Ryan has advocated for during his 17-year career in Congress. His most significant proposal has been a non-binding balanced budget outline that has been a mainstay for the GOP majority for its five years atop the House.
But there has been little follow-up in the form of binding legislation. His sweeping promises on Medicare have never been drafted—much less brought to a vote—and he made no visible progress on reforming the loophole-cluttered tax code during his 10 months as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.