Outgoing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) insists that “history is going to be very good to this majority.” Oddly, he posits that the tax plan will be the main reason for the anticipated rave reviews, although he also says a major regret was the debt, which the tax cuts expanded. Umm, that’s the best part of his legacy?
He also regrets not achieving immigration reform, but it was he and his fellow Republicans who refused to take up the Gang of Eight bill that passed the Senate overwhelmingly in 2013 and it was Ryan who would not put on the floor a bipartisan compromise on the “dreamers” that would have passed the House. So maybe we should regret Ryan’s tenure in Congress.
It’s hard to imagine history will treat him or this Congress well for a tax bill that at best gave a temporary sugar high to the economy, did not result in massive wage increases as advertised, did not simplify the code (to the contrary, it made it more complicated), worsened wealth inequality with massive tax breaks for the rich and squeezed revenue as we continued to spend with abandon.
In exchange for his great achievement — which is also weirdly responsible for one of his major regrets (the debt) — Ryan sacrificed a whole lot. We should ask if the highly flawed tax plan was worth:
- Allowing President Trump to retain his businesses, continue to receive foreign emoluments in contravention of the emoluments clause, employ family members with their own conflicts and conceal his tax records;
- Keeping Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, from which he smeared the FBI, released a misleading account of the application to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, helped expose a confidential intelligence source and postulated phony scandals — all of which did immense damage to the intelligence oversight process;
- Rebutting calls for an independent commission or a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and/or calls to pass legislative protection for the special counsel;
- Passing a repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a suitable alternative, eviscerating protections for those with preexisting conditions, swelling the ranks of the insured to 20 million people, slashing Medicaid funding and raising costs for rural Americans;
- Declining to conduct meaningful oversight over numerous ethics scandals (from handling of security clearances to misuse of taxpayer money to Trump’s alleged disguised payments to former mistresses), the handling of Hurricane Maria or the child separation debacle (to name a few); and
- Refusing officially to rebuke Trump for his statements regarding Charlottesville, for his attacks on the courts, for his racist statements on “shithole” countries or for his assaults on the First Amendment (no resolutions, no hearings on any of these).
All that for a lousy, short-term tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and corporations? Seems like an awfully bad trade-off to me.
Once an advocate of enhancing congressional power and curtailing an overweening executive, Ryan presided over the worst abdication of congressional power in modern memory. The House became a handmaiden to Trump’s worst policy decisions and, by its silence and lack of oversight, an enabler of Trump’s corruption and divisiveness. The result was a political calamity as well — the loss of the most Republican seats since Watergate.
Ryan now has the chutzpah to complain about “tribalism,” but it was he and his band of Trump warriors who made partisan loyalty the end-all and be-all of their political existence.
Ironically, had Ryan ever stood up to Trump — insisting he abide by the emoluments clause at the outset of his presidency, conducting meaningful oversight of Cabinet officials’ misuse of funds, etc. — Ryan might have saved Trump from his own worst tendencies, saved his House majority and saved his own legacy. Instead, he shares Trump’s legacy of corruption, incompetence, divisiveness and racial strife. History certainly will judge Ryan, but I strongly suspect its verdict will be anything but “very good.”