Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was joined on the stage in Everett by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who praised Ryan's tax efforts, predicting they'd be good for Boeing and other manufacturers.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan called influencing President Donald Trump’s behavior “a day-by-day deal” and pushed a GOP plan to cut and simplify taxes during a Thursday visit to Boeing’s Everett plant.
At the town-hall style event, Ryan sat on a small stage in Boeing’s 787 assembly factory, set up in front of a jet built for Israel airline El Al.
He was joined by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who praised Ryan’s tax-cut efforts, predicting they’d be good for Boeing and other manufacturers.
Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, fielded a series of polite questions for about a half hour, making the case for boosting defense spending, making welfare programs promote work, and simplifying the individual tax code so that people could file tax returns on a postcard.
Of course, President Donald Trump also came up.
One Boeing human-resources worker asked Ryan about Trump’s behavior in response to the recent violence at a Charlottesville white nationalist rally, saying she thought some people don’t believe the president had behaved ethically. The worker asked how Ryan personally was trying to influence Trump’s behavior.
“It’s a day-by-day deal,” Ryan responded, chuckling. “I am kind of joking.”
“First, you control your own behavior and you lead by example,” Ryan said. He said leaders must continually oppose “repulsive bigotry and racism in this country.”
Ryan added: “We can never get normal with this. We must always, every single time, stand up and repudiate it and condemn it unequivocally every time. Because the day we start getting numb to this is the day they’ve gotten oxygen and they become normalized.”
Ryan said he and Trump have “different speaking styles” but are working on a “shared agenda” on taxes and other issues. He said it’s important for the president to succeed “because if he succeeds the country succeeds.”
Afterward, the worker who asked the Trump question but did not want to give her name, said she found Ryan’s response unsatisfying. “It’s a canned answer,” she said. She had hoped to hear more specifics from Ryan on how he was influencing Trump.
Earlier this week, Ryan hosted a CNN town hall in Racine, Wis., where he criticized Trump’s response to violence at the Charlottesville rally, saying Trump “messed up” by initially assigning blame to “many sides.” However, Ryan has refused to support a censure resolution pushed by congressional Democrats, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, arguing it would be “counterproductive.”
The bulk of Ryan’s talk was around proposed GOP tax reforms he said would encourage renewed investment in U.S. factories.
Ryan called the current U.S. tax code “the worst, the least competitive tax system in the industrialized world” and said for Boeing “it means we are taxing this business, these planes, your jobs in this country at a much higher tax rate than our foreign competitors tax theirs … We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.” He pointed to Airbus paying a 20 percent rate compared with the U.S.’s 35 percent rate.
While the U.S. tax rate is higher than many countries, Boeing, like many companies, has found write-offs to lower its taxes. In nine of the past 15 years, the company had a negative tax rate and received a tax refund. For 2013, the U.S. wound up owing the company $199 million.
But for the last three years, Boeing did pay an income tax. In 2016, the company paid $1.2 billion in federal income tax on a pretax U.S. profit of $5.2 billion, for an effective federal tax rate of 23 percent.
Asked by a Boeing worker how his plans to cut taxes for corporations would help average workers and not just company shareholders, Ryan pointed again to the current tax code, saying it only encourages companies to manufacture overseas.
“We’re trying to reverse the incentive so that it makes sense to make things in America,” Ryan said, predicting that would lead to broader job and wage growth for the average person.
Throughout the visit, Muilenburg approvingly echoed Ryan’s comments, suggesting Boeing and other companies would reinvest savings from lower taxes into its production plants. “You got it,” he said after Ryan riffed on the benefits of tax cuts.
Ryan blamed the U.S. tax code and burdensome regulations for hampering economic growth, keeping it at 1 or 2 percent as opposed to the 3-plus percent that it was prior to the last recession.
“If we can get that faster economic growth, that translates into higher take-home pay,” Ryan said.
On the individual tax code, Ryan said he wanted to simplify the system so that people could file tax returns on a postcard. He said Congress should retain tax deductions for home mortgages, charitable giving and saving for retirement, but eliminate other special tax breaks.
“All the narrow special-interest things that are in the code … we’ve got to get rid of them,” he said.
Boeing’s own record-setting $8.7 billion, 16-year, tax-break extension granted by Washington state governors and lawmakers in 2013 was not mentioned.
In response to a Boeing employee and military veteran, Ryan also pledged to continue pushing to boost military spending, saying the U.S. should be in a position where no other nation can seriously threaten it.
Ryan said the Republican majority in Congress will continue pressing for changes to social welfare programs to make them jobs-focused. “We want the welfare system not to discourage work but to encourage work,” he said.
Prior to the town hall, Ryan toured the Boeing facility, posing for photos but taking no questions from reporters. He was joined on the tour by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
Later in the day, Ryan attended a fundraiser in Bellevue for Congressional Republicans. Tickets for the event ran from $2,500 for a luncheon to $10,000 for a photo reception and $50,000 to attend a “VIP Roundtable.”
Ryan has been criticized by Democrats for his opposition to the Export-Import Bank, which guarantees loans to help trade deals for Boeing and other U.S. exporters. Ryan has called the Ex-Im Bank an example of “crony capitalism.” But he has supported a $3 billion deal in his home state to lure a massive factory from Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn Technology Group that could employ thousands.
Asked about his opposition to Ex-Im at the Thursday town hall, Ryan said he favored bank “reforms” so that it didn’t serve only certain large companies. He then turned back to his tax-reform proposals, saying if Congress fixes the overall tax and regulatory code, companies like Boeing won’t need Ex-Im so much.
Seated next to Ryan, Muilenburg said “we are going to continue to work on that.”
The Boeing visit was part of a West Coast swing for Ryan to promote the GOP tax-reform effort. On Wednesday, Ryan toured Intel in Oregon and held a fundraiser with Rep. Greg Walden.
The trip came amid tensions between Trump and congressional leaders.
Trump, who this week threatened a government shutdown over his proposed border wall with Mexico, has publicly criticized Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In a tweet, the president rebuked the leaders for not inserting a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling into recently approved legislation on disability benefits for veterans.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee welcomed Ryan to the state in an open letter published Wednesday. Inslee touted the state’s economic success and urged Ryan to protect the economy, support science, champion diversity and support social programs. The governor also pointed to tensions in Charlottesville.
“Your visit to Everett comes on the heels of a frightening week in our country, with nationalist, racist and neo-Nazi forces emboldened by the president’s weak response to the violence in Charlottesville. This is a historic time with no room for moral ambiguity,” Inslee wrote. “Something has to change. And you have the power to bring about that change. I hope Washington State will inspire you to do so.”