On health care, taxes and more, Ryan pledges Republicans will 'get these laws done in 2017'
By MIKE DEBONIS | The Washington Post | Published: January 26, 2017
PHILADELPHIA — Congress will pass legislation to remake health care, reform the federal tax system and secure the U.S. border with Mexico by year's end, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday, confirming an aggressive agenda to carry out President Donald Trump's campaign priorities.
"We have ambitious goals and ambitious timelines," Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters, hours before Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are set to address GOP lawmakers here. "Our goal is to get these laws done in 2017."
In their remarks Thursday, Trump and Pence are expected to put their stamp on an aggressive legislative agenda focused on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, overhauling corporate taxation and cracking down on illegal immigration.
GOP lawmakers arrived Wednesday and spent the day inside a closed-off downtown hotel, listening to their leaders sketch out plans for the coming months, laid out in charts and bullet points.
But it will fall to Trump and Pence to animate those ambitions Thursday and project a sense of abiding unity with lawmakers who have been uneasy at times - both with the new president's unpredictable outbursts and some of the potential details of his agenda.
That uneasiness was again on display Thursday, when Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were asked about a draft executive order under White House consideration that could pave the way for the reopening of overseas "black sites," where the CIA was accused of using aggressive interrogation methods widely condemned as torture.
"That's not policy from the Trump administration, so push that aside," Ryan said. He later added: "Torture is not legal, and we agree with it not being legal."
McConnell added that new CIA Director Mike Pompeo "made it clear he is going to follow the law, and I believe virtually all of our members are comfortable with the state of the law on that issue now."
The timeline for early legislative action discussed Thursday by Ryan goes beyond the traditional 100-day window for a new administration's top priorities. He said the scale of the planned legislation, as well as the need for the Senate to spend scarce floor time on executive nominations, meant taking a longer view.
"We are trying to fix people's problems in this country," he said. "It's going to take more than simply 100 days."
That timeline comports with major legislation pursued by former president Barack Obama at the outset of his administration. Congress quickly passed a fiscal stimulus bill, but a major health care overhaul - the Affordable Care Act - bogged down and was not finalized until more than a year after his inauguration.
Ryan added that "most of these big things" could be done by the August congressional recess, but he left open the possibility of other actions to come: "By and large, our goal is by the end of 2017, we have made good on so many of the promises that we made to the people and the policies we ran on."
Before Trump speaks, GOP lawmakers gathered for morning sessions on two key issues: national security and health care.
The latter session is seen as a key opportunity for Ryan, McConnell and other congressional leaders to offer more details about their plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Rank-and-file Republicans have expressed the desire for more clarity on how the law, which has expanded coverage to roughly 20 million Americans, will be replaced. Trump himself has pledged that the repeal of the law and its replacement will happen "essentially simultaneously."
But in preliminary discussions, key lawmakers played down the possibility that a fully formed Obamacare replacement plan would be rolled out at Thursday's session.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Thursday that members would "understand the movement, the timing and what's going forward" on health care.
He described an action plan consisting of three "buckets" - a fast-track "reconciliation" bill that Republicans can pass without Democratic cooperation but is limited in scope under congressional rules; a series of executive actions that will be undertaken by the Trump administration to reform insurance markets; and a series of traditional bills completing the replacement that will need to gain some Democratic support.
"All three of these things move at the same time," McCarthy said.
Members are also set to discuss national security issues, including immigration, a day after Trump signed executive orders to build a southern border wall and cut off funds to cities that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said Thursday his panel would consider granting the Trump administration additional authorities.
Those, he said, could include new laws to allow authorities to track and deport visitors who overstay their visas, to grant Homeland Security officials broader access to federal lands along the border, and to extend expedited removal procedures for illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico. Those procedures are already in place for Mexicans who enter the country illegally.
McCaul praised the Trump administration's executive actions, but he said Congress would ultimately have to act to carry out his plans - including passing legislation to spend as much as $15 billion of taxpayer dollars on the border wall.
"He's moving fast," he said. "But you can't do this without the money. Only Congress can do that."