Ryan Dismisses Speculation of Exit as He Lays Out 2018 Agenda

(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed speculation about his possible retirement and laid out an ambitious vision for what Republicans in Congress should accomplish next year to advance conservative goals once a massive package of tax cuts is put into law.

Republicans will use their second year of controlling the House, Senate and White House to overhaul government social programs, criminal justice, technical education and health care, Ryan of Wisconsin said Thursday.

Ryan set out his plans as he also faced questions about whether he’ll be driving the Republican agenda after 2018. Politico reported Thursday that dozens of people who know him well say they expect Ryan won’t stay in Congress beyond 2018. Ryan, 47, is in his 10th term and took the title of House speaker in 2015 after initially telling colleagues he didn’t want the job.

Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, called the Politico report “pure speculation.” President Donald Trump spoke to Ryan by telephone after the story was published and Ryan assured him that they’d be working together for “a long time,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

With congressional elections next November, 2018 will be a crucial year for Republicans after their tax overhaul -- now heading toward final passage -- was the only major legislative accomplishment during the first 11 months of Trump’s presidency. Gains by Democrats in recent statewide elections, most recently Tuesday in Alabama’s U.S. Senate contest, pose a threat to Republicans retaining full control of Congress beyond next year.

“Next year is going to be the year that we work on people,” Ryan said. “Next year is the year we work on getting people where they need to get in life, better jobs, actual career, closing the skills gap.”

He described government assistance, mostly for low-income people, as “a poverty trap” that discourages work and keeps millions of Americans from living up to their full potential.

Reducing government spending on what he describes as entitlement programs has long been a goal for Ryan, and he said getting more people into the work force is going to be “the new economic challenge for America.”

Mandatory spending -- that is, funds that are not appropriated by Congress -- on programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid represents more than half of U.S. government outlays. Although the tax plans passed by the House and Senate are projected to add roughly $1 trillion to federal deficits over the next decade, Ryan said the way to bridge yearly budget shortfalls is overhauling these programs and spurring greater economic growth by cutting regulations and taxes.

Moving the agenda through the Senate will be a challenge. Republicans will have 51 seats in the 100-member chamber next year and under Senate rules most legislation needs 60 votes to advance. Democrats would likely resist cuts to entitlement programs. However, just as with the tax bill, Republicans could enact entitlement cuts with just 50 Senate votes if they use the budget process.

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